Friday, October 14, 2011

Halloween: should Christians participate?

This is a controversial issue. My husband, Danny, posted a question about Halloween on Facebook, and within a day or two there were several dozen comments. Here's the way I see it:

I can discern at least four approaches Christians might take to the Halloween question.

1. Full Participation. Those who take this approach typically argue that dressing up and eating candy are "good, clean fun." If there is a dark history to this "holiday," it is no longer relevant today because people don't think of Halloween in those terms. Both Danny and I grew up with this mindset. My family dressed up and went trick-or-treating until I was 11 or 12. I was even a witch one year! When I was in junior high we started to become aware of the reality of Satan and his work in the world, and the idea of pretending to be witches or ghosts very quickly lost its appeal.

2. Alternative Events. In the Pacific Northwest, it's very common for churches to offer an alternative event where kids can come and have fun without the danger of trick-or-treating through dark neighborhoods or encountering scary costumes. When Danny and I moved to Charlotte we were surprised to find that no churches in our area offered alternative "harvest" events. This forced us to rethink our own stance towards Halloween. We could either hide in the back room or participate.

3. Missional Participation. We decided then that Halloween was an opportunity to build memories with our neighbors, deepen our roots in the neighborhood, and minimize the "weirdness" of Christianity. The first year, we gave out mini water bottles to trick-or-treaters with a printed labels that read,
"Thirsty from all that candy?
'Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water
welling up to eternal life.'" 
- Jesus (John 4:13-14)
Another year we gave out little flashlights that said "Jesus is the light." After 3 or 4 years of participation, though, we began to wonder if it was really making any difference. We'd rather our kids not be out where they can be exposed to hideous costumes. Even though it's just "pretend" it can be traumatic for kids to be confronted gruesome, evil masks.

4. No Participation. And that's why we're toying with the idea of having a simple family night on Halloween. Why participate at all in a "holiday" that celebrates what is dark and gruesome and scary? Our Jehovah's Witness friends seem to have happy, well-adjusted children, even without letting them trick-or-treat. Will our children really be worse off if we abstain?

I don't think there is one right answer for Christians. As one friend pointed out on Facebook, it's possible to participate in Halloween yet have a well-developed understanding of the reality and danger of evil. He argued that Halloween has largely lost its connection to its pagan roots. A comic from the latest Christianity Today magazine depicts pagans who are disgruntled over the commercialization of their sacred day. Just as we insist on recognizing the real meaning of the Christmas holiday, so I think we ought to take seriously the historical significance of Halloween.

I'd like to suggest a couple of questions that Christians could be asking as they wrestle with this issue.

What does Halloween mean in our context?
What will our level of participation communicate to our neighbors?
How does our level of participation affect children (ours or those we come in contact with)?
Would Jesus be comfortable joining our family on Oct 31?
Most importantly, how can we represent him well this season?

There is not one right answer to these questions. It will depend on your situation and the specific sphere of ministry to which you are called. As you discuss these issues, you might find the following Scriptures helpful: Deuteronomy 18:9-13; Romans 14; Philippians 4:8; 1 Peter 4:14-16.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Colossians 3:17


  1. We use Trick-or-Treating as a way to teach our kids manners. Use the sidewalk instead of the grass. Say Trick-or-Treat but not smell my feet, etc. Say "Thank you!" Never complain about the treats. Only take one treat from the bowl. There is nothing inherently evil is dressing up or candy. As far as the spookier houses and scary masks, we avoid them or ask the mask wearer to remove it so the kids can see it's pretend. Just my $0.02.

  2. I agree that there is no one right answer for all Christians. Though I grew with No. 1, your comment about gruesome costumes in this day should give parents with younger children pause.

    Decades ago, we attended an employees' party where the older park service kids had set up a haunted house. It was a great regret taking our young kids there.

    I still think Christians should seek to bring Light to the event, which ever option they choose.

    I did not notice a contact link. If you would be interested in seeing Oh Holy Night; The Peace of 1914, a reflection on the Christmas truce, I would be glad to send the pdf.

  3. For the past several years we have handed out tracts with our candy. The American Tract Society web site has quite a few halloween-specific choices. Living Waters ministry has a good children's tract, as well as "Death Beth" cards for teens. We want to be friendly and generous to our neighbors, as well as offer the truth. I think that's better than closing our door and turning off our lights on a night when neighbors will come over and see us.
    -Julie T.