In both Easter and Christmas, we’ve seen Christians attempt to redeem the festivals and holy days of pagan religions by freeing the harmless customs from the ungodly rituals. Some might argue the success of these endeavors, but most Christians happily celebrate Easter and Christmas without hesitation or even consideration of their heathen origins.
As the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states about Christmas, “Many Christians contend that such practices no longer bear pagan connotations, and believe that the observance of Christmas provides an opportunity for worship and witness bearing.”
It seems that Halloween holds no such privilege. While many Christians (perhaps most) and their children contentedly ignore the exceedingly vocal protests against Halloween from “Christian fundamentalists” (I despise this label) and go on trick-or-treating, these numbers seem far fewer than those of the aforementioned holidays with their child-centered activities of egg hunts and gift giving.
A Three Day Holiday
It’s certainly not because October 31 isn’t a holiday in the “holy day” sense. Halloween is actually a reference to “All Hallow’s Eve” or as it’s known outside medieval Britain, All Saint’s Eve, a day of feasting and celebration.
November 1, All Saint’s Day, was officially instituted by the Syrian Pope Gregory III, otherwise famous for his involvement in the iconoclastic controversy. This day is purposed to honor all the saints and martyrs of the past.
The following day, November 2, is All Soul’s Day, was established in the eleventh century to honor souls that had died in the past year.
This three day sequence indeed falls into the Christian festival category as much as Easter or Christmas. It’s a long-standing Christian tradition with honorable and godly intentions. It’s anything but a mere secular holiday, but like Easter and Christmas, we were far from calling first dibs.
Another Three Day Holiday
In ancient Rome, these days marked the festival of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and gardens. This merry occasion focused on rejoicing the full harvest and feasting accordingly. Yet these roots seem to not concern Christians, despite the flagrant idolatry and nature worship. It’s the murkier Celtic origins that bother them more.
Also a three day occasion, the festival of Samhain (the god of death) as celebrated by the Celts and Anglo-Saxons held many recognizable features. Sure, the time is marked by from concepts like herds returning from pasture and the renewals of laws and land tenures, but this new year celebration also included masked people called “guisers” carrying around hollowed up turnip lamps (pumpkins were still an ocean away).
On the eve of the new year (that is, October 31) it was believed that the souls of the dead revisited homes while hobgoblins, witches (often in the form of black cats), fairies, and demons roamed the earth.
Divination was especially popular on this day, as it was a favorable time for seeking answers on the specific subjects of marriage, luck, health, or death. Answers were sought a number of ways, from hopping over lit candles to burning nuts, from tossing apples over shoulders to making a deal with the devil himself (a once-a-year opportunity).
Past and Present
As it stands, such a celebration should raise the hackles of Christian adherents. Idolatry, divination, witchcraft, and communing with Satan make for a compelling argument against holding a festival of Samhain in my neighborhood or at my church. I’d be a terrible father to encourage my children to take part!
Yet in all my Christian walk in all the Halloween celebrations I’ve seen, I’ve never known one of my believing friends to light a fire to keep evil spirits at bay, toss fruit about to learn who they should marry, or expect a witch to be seen roaming about—unless you count the cliché costumes worn by little girls and occasional women (often using a roughly similar amount of fabric for either age).
I’d be shocked if I know more than two or three friends who have ever even heard of Samhain, much less could pick the guy out of a lineup. To say that Halloween, as commonly practiced by the people I know at least, holds any remaining evil would presume a lot on their spirit and motivations.
A Few Words from Paul
In Colossians 2:16, Paul wrote, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (NIV). He goes on to say, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’?”(vv. 20-21 NIV). Paul says these things are human teachings and commands with an appearance of wisdom through self-imposed worship and false humility, but they lack any value.
Romans 14 offers similar instruction, focusing specifically on things (food, in this case) that were once purposed for paganism. Paul’s advice? Go for it, eat the food, but with an asterisk.
In verses 14 and 15, he says “…I am fully convinced that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died” (NIV).
Our lives are to be interwoven in the body of Christ, so I need to consider what my actions may endorse for fellow believers. If I host a Halloween party, I won’t knowingly invite a recovering Druid just like how I don’t generally drink alcohol at an intimate dinner with recovering alcoholics, but it’s out of consideration for them. I can eat meat sacrificed to idols, but I _won’t _if I know it’ll make them stumble.
So in the Osgood home, we celebrate Easter, Christmas, and Halloween. Maybe not like some, but we do it without a guilty conscience.
Originally posted 2016-10-31 08:00:36.