Christians have traditionally not looked fondly upon the celebration of Halloween. The holiday derives from an old Celtic, pagan holiday called Samhain. Samhain was an ancient festival highlighted by bonfires where people would wear costumes to ward off ghosts and spirits from destroying crops and other perilous activity. They believed that this was the night that the dead would return to the earth. By the mid-first century A.D., the Celts were conquered by Rome and Samhein traditions were eventually intertwined with Roman holidays that commemorated the dead. Later, these traditions would be co-opted by the Catholic Church in remembering dead martyrs and saints, hence, "All Saints Day" held on November 1. The day before (October 31) came to be known as "All-hallows" or "All-hallowmas." In adopting and adapting the holiday, the Church kept many of the existing rituals and traditions, such as dressing up as saints, angels, and devils. The day eventually became known as "All Hallow's Eve," and finally Halloween.
By the late 1800's, Halloween was focused less on remembering the dead and other ghoulish activities, and it became more of a community event. Much of the focus on the dead was downplayed and the day became an event for children to enjoy. By the early 20th century, Halloween was almost entirely secularized, removing any religious elements from the festivities. Trick-or-treating as we know it became popular by the 1950's.
In light of its origins, many Christian have taken issue with Halloween, believing that it has ties to the demonic and pagan worship, even though such practices are not involved in the modern understanding of the holiday. In an attempt to distance themselves from evil, churches often host alternative events such as a "Trunk-or-Treat" or a fall festival. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, and admittedly, such activities can be a lot of fun, I believe it is unnecessary to avoid participating in Trick-or-Treating and other Halloween activities. In fact, I actually think engaging in the holiday can be redemptive.
HALLOWEEN IS THE ONE DAY EACH YEAR
WHERE ALL OF YOUR NEIGHBORS ARE MOST
LIKELY TO BE OUTSIDE AND HAVING FUN.
The question of Halloween is really a question we must ask of lots of things in our culture. It's a question of what we can and should accept as is, what we should reject as wrong and evil, and what can be redeemed for a greater purpose. So here's the question, Is the modern practice of Halloween inherently evil, or is it something that can be redeemed? I say redeem it! (If your conscience allows.) Obviously, we want to avoid any sort of celebration of evil, but I don't see how dressing up in a costume and eating candy is participating in pagan worship. Certainly we can engage in Trick-or-Treating to the glory of God! The wholesale rejection of Halloween misses a great opportunity to meet neighbors and live on mission. Halloween is the one day each year where all of your neighbors are most likely to be outside and having fun. Dave Matthis challenges us to rethink how we engage Halloween:
"What if we ran Halloween through the grid of the gospel and pondered whether there might be a third path beyond naïveté and retreat? What if we took the perspective that all of life, Halloween included, is an opportunity for gospel advance? What if we saw Halloween not as a retreat but as a kind of gospel trick — an occasion to extend Christ’s cause on precisely the night when Satan may feel his strongest?"
So, instead of fearing Halloween, we can use it as a way to meet neighbors, build relationships, and perhaps even engage in the gospel story. Here are some simple tips to leverage Halloween for a missional purpose this year:
Host a Party
If your neighborhood doesn't host a party already, consider throwing a party. You can do something as simple as handing out candy in your front yard with hot chocolate and cider, or throwing a full-blown costume or block party for kids. The sky is the limit! The point is to meet neighbors and have a good time getting to know them.
Hand Out Really GOOD Candy
This might not sound like a big deal but the type of candy you give out matters. Kids remember the houses that give good candy (like candy bars, goodie bags) and they loathe (i.e. egg and roll) the houses that give out bad candy, or are stingy. Give generously as a picture of how God generously blesses us and lavishes His love upon us.
Go to the Door with Your Kids
A great way to meet neighbors is to go to their door with your kids. This allows you to get to know people on their turf in a non-threatening way. It communicates grace and love when you are willing to meet someone on their turf, even if it is just his or her front porch. Plus, you can probably sneak a piece of candy or two for yourself.
For more information on how you can be on mission this Halloween: