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Every year Christians raise the question about how to relate to Halloween. Opinions span the entire spectrum, from those who say that Halloween should be avoided because it is a “festival of the devil” (as Pat Robertson famously declared), to those who see in the holiday an opportunity to witness to their communities.
I think that the position you take is directly tied to how you believe Jesus relates to culture. Is Jesus against the culture, in the culture or over the culture? We like to think that our opinion of Halloween is the “right” one, but in this case, I think it best to be gracious and open to varied opinions. Let me explain.
In 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 Paul speaks of the freedom that Christians have in Christ. He tells us all things are “lawful” but not all things are “helpful”. He also tells us that “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”. I think that if this is our foundational Scripture in dealing with Halloween, then we are wise to see that this tension should be embraced. We should see Halloween as something to be carefully considered, but not allow ourselves to vilify and look down on Christians who take an opposing view.
There is no doubt that Halloween has roots in pagan spirituality, but Albert Mohler wisely notes that there has been a shift from pagan ritual to a merely commercial fascination with the dark side. This seems to bear truth in Canada where about $400 million is spent on Halloween candy each year (see the Stats Can report here) There is no doubt that the vast majority of Canadians participate in Halloween because they like to see their kids dressed up in cute costumes and get loads of candy. Yet, this does not mean that the holiday is harmless either.
Exactly how to engage with Halloween is certainly a tricky matter for Christians. I think the tension that all things are permissible but that not all things are beneficial, is important to maintain. On the one hand we want to abstain from Halloween because of the grotesque images and the seeming celebration of the darkness, and yet, we seem to have no issue with the gluttony on display in Thanksgiving and the greed and materialism of Christmas. But, there are certainly unhelpful principles that are espoused in our modern Halloween rituals, such as the greed and the tendency to focus on things that are not uplifting and good.
I try to be of the same mind as Paul – I applaud those who see Halloween as an occasion to engage with their community in God-honouring ways. They take the time to befriend neighbours, to start conversations and be generous. But I also respect those who want to abstain and prefer to either have alternate celebrations (such as Reformation Day celebrations), or to just take the time to do something as a family or to serve in some charitable endeavour for the night. I think, as unpopular as it may be, that Christians are free to listen to their consciences in regards to Halloween so long as they are listening to their Scripture and Spirit-informed consciences.
My last caution would be a theological one. When talking with parents about Halloween what I often find is that their apprehension about the holiday is rooted in poor theology. There is an assumption that the “sin of the world” will infect the faith of the Christian, that by the clean touching the unclean, the clean would be rendered defiled. There is wisdom in avoiding sinful things, of course, but, we need to remember Jesus’ actions and words. Jesus’ actions make clear that when the clean Saviour touches the unclean person, it is the unclean person that is rendered clean; the clean is not infected by the unclean person. Jesus’ words in Mark 7:21-23 tell us that the issue is not so much the extrinsic, or the external world that leads to sin, but that the sin is rooted inside our hearts and that the sin in us will find expression outwardly. For these reasons I would encourage a cautious and thoughtful interaction with Halloween and pray that we would labour to be gracious with our brothers and sisters as they seek to interact with this holiday.