This post originally ran on October 24, 2013. Apparently, I am currently a one-post-per-quarter kind of blogger. I don’t mean it to be this way, but it happens. I have many, many ideas and thoughts I’d love to share with you, so if you’re the patient type, stick with me. And if you’re working on a mind-to-blog app, could you speed it up a little?
Around this time of year there are always questions about whether or not Christians should participate in Halloween activities, due to their pagan roots. It’s true that Halloween has a rather sordid past, with pagan-practicing communities performing rites to ward off evil spirits. Here’s a quote from history.com:
It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating.
Many Christians feel it’s not okay to participate in Halloween festivities because they were, originally, decidedly un-Christian. Before we start in on Halloween, let’s look around our culture at some other customs that have pagans roots.
- Wedding rings. The meaning of the wedding ring as a symbol of marital commitment finds its origin not in Scripture, but in pagan mythology and superstitions.
- Easter. Easter was a pagan festival, originating in the worship of other gods, and was introduced much later into an apostate Christianity in a deliberate attempt to make such festivals acceptable. Many Easter symbols, including Easter eggs and rabbits were used before Jesus was born.
- Christmas traditions. The Christmas tree is a 17th-century German invention, University of Bristol’s Hutton told LiveScience, but it clearly derives from the pagan practice of bringing greenery indoors to decorate in midwinter.
Let’s clarify – I’m not saying we should now spend the weekend Googling to find the pagan roots of common things in our lives and then purge ourselves. My point is simply to give perspective. There are many things in modern American culture that were at one time part of pagan worship, but the spiritual aspect of those acts has long since died away.
I found a fantastic article from Grace Communion International outlining some Biblical perspective on dealing with paganism. A few excerpts:
In Deuteronomy 12, God, through Moses, tells us: “Be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, `How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.’ You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”
Do these verses mean that we cannot do anything pagans did in worship? Of course not, for pagans prayed, sang hymns, played musical instruments, and some baptized by immersion. They also had priesthoods, special garments, temples, altars and sacrifices. They had annual festivals in conjunction with the agricultural seasons. None of these practices are wrong. Some are even part of Christianity.
Pagans also had many funeral customs, such as embalming, ceremonies and giving of flowers. Even though these common customs were shaped by non-Christian ideas about the afterlife, and these customs continue to be used by non-Christians, we may, and do, use them in Christian ceremonies without indicating any agreement with the originating beliefs.
In the United States, no one would think it odd for a Christian to have a small ornamental figurine of a bird or animal. In Moses’ day, however, such statues would have been inappropriate. Whether something has pagan connotations is often cultural. What is acceptable in one nation or century may be frowned upon in another. But we do not have to be restricted by erroneous concepts of the past.
We can make decisions about embalming, burial, caskets, crypts, cremation and flowers without having to investigate which of these customs originated in paganism. It is even possible to use these things in religious ceremonies without fear of contamination or compromise.
Of course, some people are uncomfortable with customs such as wedding rings and cremation. Others are not. Different people draw their “lines” in different places, but they need to respect each other’s beliefs. The advice of Romans 14:6-13 applies to such matters: “He who participates does so to the Lord. He who abstains does so to the Lord. So then, why do you judge your brother? Each of us has to give our own account to God. Therefore, do not pass judgment on one another, and do not put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Halloween. I have a deep dislike for scary, gory stuff. Last year I offered to buy each of my kids a bag of candy and pay them $10 to skip it. Sadly, they passed.
For us, Halloween is a great chance to get to know our neighbors and build relationships in the community. Here’s the line our family has drawn – we let our kids dress up, but we don’t allow frightening costumes or those that appear evil (demons, witches, etc.) We usually carve pumpkins. I’m not worried that by dressing up and carving pumpkins we will be worshiping the devil because you can’t accidentally worship something. Carving pumpkins doesn’t make me a pagan any more than sitting in church makes me a Christian. Now if all our neighbors were carving pumpkins as an act of worship to something demonic, we wouldn’t do it. But in our culture the act is purely traditional.
If you live in relative solitude, on a farm or in the country, it’s easy enough to ignore Halloween altogether. But in a neighborhood like ours, it’s impossible. There are pumpkins on every doorstep and skeletons in some of the trees. I don’t know a single family that won’t be out trick or treating. We have a choice to make, and it comes down to that 90’s anthem: What Would Jesus Do? He told us to be in the world, but not of it. This is a very important line to draw. If we’re going to say we’re set apart by God we can’t rush in to do everything the world does. But remaining ‘not of’ the world doesn’t mean shunning the people around us. There are plenty of examples in scripture of Christians setting aside their objections in order to love their communities. Would Jesus hide in His house with the lights off and ignore all the little children knocking for candy? Even if you don’t participate by following the usual customs, buy a bag of candy, turn on the porch light and meet your neighbors! If you are worried about exposing your little ones to demonic-looking costumes, put a sign in the drive way that says, “Small children at home, no scary costumes, please.” Will a few teenagers defy your sign? Maybe. But rather than being seen as the ‘odd family who goes to church’ you can be seen as the ‘really nice and friendly family that goes to church’.
Let’s be clear, if you feel strongly that your family shouldn’t celebrate Halloween – don’t. If your church community or family would be offended by your participating, don’t put a stumbling block in their way. In the end, none of this is about our personal feelings and desires – it’s about behaving toward others in a way that points them to Jesus.