Dear Annapolis Friends and Families (excluding all ghosts, gouls, or goblins who may be disguised among us),
Today is Halloween. To quote Jim Geraghty, “We live in a world with North Korean nukes, opioid addiction, Antifa, Russian hackers, a mass shooting in Las Vegas that still lacks a revealed motive, and monsters like Harvey Weinstein. Honestly, by comparison, ghosts and goblins are kind of relaxing!”
I have a confession to make: I was raised a Halloween “teetotaler.” Growing up, my parents had strong convictions that Halloween was demonic, evil, and rooted in occult practices dating back to the pagan Celtic druids and the festival of Samhain (pronounced “sah-wain”) marking the end of the harvest season and commemorating the dead.
My parents didn’t let us trick or treat or dress up as gouls, ghosts, or goblins. However, one year my church, following Hebrews 12:1, hosted a fall “All Saints Party” and invited kids to dress up as biblical characters from the “great cloud of witnesses.” I chose to dress up as Moses (the Charlton Heston version) and wore a long white beard while carrying two cardboard tablets covered with tin foil with the ten commandments written on them. My brother chose to dress as John the Baptist, replete with camel hair skins, wild hair, and a bottle of honey and a bag of candy he called “locusts.” He walked around “crying in the wilderness”: “Repent and be baptized! …. (Want some honey?)” It was fun.
In my role as the Head of Annapolis, I am 100% supportive of the school’s policy not to celebrate the modern version of Halloween. The holiday is totally divisive with many Christian families believing it’s evil and many others believing it’s harmless. This is a microcosm of Christians at large. According to a recent LifeWay Poll, 49% of evangelical Christians participate fully in Halloween activities while 51% of evangelical Christians either avoid Halloween altogether (28%) or avoid the “pagan elements” (23%).
As parents, my wife and I have wrestled with how to approach Halloween with our kids. Over the years we’ve run the spectrum of total avoidance in some years to moderate involvement (i.e. letting our kids dress up and trick or treat with friends in our neighborhood while avoiding demonic costumes etc.). I don’t have it all figured out and I’m certainly NOT advocating for or against the holiday. Reading Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, it seems clear to me that Halloween is a “disputable matter,” and it will probably always be so. Christians should follow their conscience. However, like most things, the classical Christian tradition is not silent about Halloween and can inform our perspective (whatever that might be).
It might surprise you to discover that, historically speaking, Halloween is a classical Christian holiday rooted in the medieval Christian festivals of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day.” In fact, John Mirk’s Festial (the most popular orthodox sermon compilation in late medieval England) actually explains how “All Hallows Eve” came about. Pope Boniface IV converted the Roman Pantheon into a Christian church dedicated to saints and martyrs during the 7th century. This day was then commemorated as All Saints’ Day.
The purpose of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day was to commemorate the faithful departed and, through them, to celebrate the victory of Christ over death and the hope of the Resurrection.”
Indeed, most of the rituals and practices we associate with Halloween are medieval Christian or early modern in origin – not pagan. To dress up as a ghost or soul or demon or skeleton was to mock satan and show the power that Christians have in Christ and the victory he won satan and the powers of darkness. From emphasizing dead souls (both good and evil), to decorating skeletons, lighting candles for processions, building bonfires to ward off evil spirits, organizing community feasts, and even encouraging carnival practices like costumes, the medieval and early modern traditions of “Hallowtide” were firmly situated in a medieval Christian view of reality.
From a historical perspective, “Halloween” is a celebration of Christian triumph over paganism, rather than a pagan holiday masquerading as Christian.”
What does all this mean? It means that Halloween has been stolen from Christians! Like Christmas, Easter, and St. Valentine’s day, historically ignorant and culturally illiterate Christians have abandoned their rich historical past and have allowed their holiday to be stolen and hijacked and turned into something perverse.
Though there is still some small element in which the original facing down of death and the attempt (with costumes) to ward of demonic and destructive forces is present, we have to be honest that most people have no clue about Halloween’s Christian past and frankly aren’t celebrating anything like Christ’s victory over sin, death, the devil, and the powers of darkness. Now, for most of the people who are really into Halloween, it is a time to endorse the evil spirits, not mock them.
The sad reality is that Halloween has become worse than worthless in its increasingly ridiculous use as little more than a candy-buying extravaganza and an excuse for adults to dress transgressively or shamelessly.
So can Halloween be redeemed? Should Christians celebrate Halloween today? I leave these questions for you to ponder and decide. But I want to challenge you that, if you do celebrate Halloween, don’t celebrate it like the world does. Remember that good overcame evil. Don’t forget about the power of the cross. This offers peace and hope to a dying world and is the true message of Halloween—truly a cause for celebration!
This video with evangelist Glen Scrivener captures the essence of what I’m talking about very well…