When I grew up as kid in small town Missouri, Halloween was a favorite time of the year. Not only did it indicate that Thanksgiving and Christmas were not far behind, but it gave us kids an opportunity to dress up in some fun costume and traverse our town begging the folks to give us candy; and they loved giving it to us. And in those good ole days, people handed out those full-sized candy bars. None of that “fun-size” non-sense like now. Little dinky 3 Musketeers bars are neither sizable nor fun. But I digress.
Our costumes were not all that fancy. We didn’t have any of those specialty stores like they have now-a-days where I guy can get a full on elf warrior suit or some gal one of those sleazy outfits like “sexy ebola patient” or whatever. Nope. The only store bought costumes came from Wal-Mart and they just sold stuff like Casper the ghost, Bugs Bunny, Mork from Ork, Batman (Adam West version), or if I was really, really lucky and could secure one of those X-wing fighter costumes for the size of a “husky” 8 year old. Those, regrettably, were hard to come by.
I do recall when my brother and I would get home with the candy haul, mom would empty out our plastic pumpkin containers and quickly toss any homemade treats like brownies, rice krispy bars, or caramel apples. That’s because she believed there were murderers among us who would bake Drano in the brownies or slip razor blades in the apples. Of course, I got my caramel apple from Mrs. Peters, who was an otherwise sweet and kindly neighbor the rest of the year. Who knew she had a dark side to her that made her want to kill children. Makes me wonder what my mother secretly thought lurked in the underbelly of our small town.
Urban legends aside, Halloween was always a great time for us kids. We certainly weren’t thinking about the devil or Satanists. That all changed, however, when I got saved in college.
During the first year after I became a Christian, as summer moved into fall and October began to approach, I became exposed to sermons and literature that told me how Halloween was the devil’s night when satanists would emerge from their grottoes and prowl the countryside seeking out human prey for their devilish rituals. No Jesus loving Christian wants to have anything to do with Halloween, I was lectured. Pandering to trick-or-treaters was only putting out a welcome mat for demons to possess your soul and satanists to abduct you out of your bed.
Oddly, it was a mannish, atheist sociology professor at my university who really pushed the “satanists-will-get-you-on-Halloween” narrative. She had it in for religion in general, but satanism was her specialty. I want to say she had written her dissertation on the subject of international satanist groups in which she likened their criminal organizations to the Italian mafia. Every year around the week or so before Halloween, the local “alternative” free-thinkers newspaper would publish her multi-page exposes on the generational satanists whose family lineage went back hundreds of years with roots in Europe, and apparently operated in the shadowy corners of the rural, farming communities of northeast Arkansas. Who would have thunk…?
The fundamentalist Baptists and Pentecostal churches ate her conspiracy nonsense up. One of the moron associate pastors at my church at the time had her come one Wednesday night and give her lecture on the subject. Never mind the fact she is an atheist and spoke against God and Christianity in other venues. She had a sensational talk about satanism that played to the local Christians and their superstitious tendencies about devils, Satan, and warlocks.
Her wild-eyed fantasy about murderous satanist cults also lent “academic” credibility to the crackpot Chick tract version of Halloween already present in the psyche of many of the folks at my church. His cartoon tracts have sort of evolved over the years. The early ones I came into contact with fed the myth about stealth witches living among normal, middle-class Americans, who desired to poison children with tainted candy on Halloween. There were also to ones about roving mobs of hooded satanists kidnapping blonde girls for human sacrifice. According to those Chick tracts, you are a devil worshiper even if you carve a smiling Jack o lantern to sit by your door.
Chick must’ve realized there was money to be made off dumb Christians who participated in Halloween anyways and never heeded his absurd take on the subject, so his later tracts on Halloween published in the 2000s played down the demon possessed, serial killing satanist angle, and moved to promoting the idea of buying large, bulk quantities of his tracts and giving them away to trick or treaters along with candy. I mean, who knows, maybe some Catholic kid will read Chick’s hair-brained Death Cookie tract he received from that Fundy family and become a KJVO Independent Baptist!
Being something of a stupid, undiscerning baby Christian when I was first exposed to Jack Chick Halloween history, and fueled by the atheist professor’s satanism legends, I became a crusader against Halloween. I preached against Christians doing Halloween almost as hard as I defended the KJV as the only reliable translation. I was nuts.
There was one sweet gal in our college group who loved cutesy Halloween decorations like jolly Frankenstein and happy ghosts. She’d dressed up in some fun outfit, like Cat Woman, when she handed out candy to kids who came to her apartment. I would self-righteously “separate” from any fellowship times at her place during Halloween because I didn’t want to give any affirmation to her foolish, Satan inspired decorations.
Thankfully, the Good Lord has patiently matured me in those areas of my thinking. My wife and I talked long about whether we would let our kids participate in Halloween. When we first got married, we turned out the porch lights and closed the curtains so as to dissuade trick or treaters. But after much reflection, we decided we would participate in Halloween by handing out candy. We didn’t want to come across as those sourpuss, hater Christians.
Now that we have children, we let them participate as well. Our emphasis with them is more on the Reformation side of Halloween, but we still let them dress up and get candy. At this point, none of them have an interest in the gory, scary side of Halloween.
With that all being stated; if I may, let me offer up some general thoughts I have on the subject.
First, Christians must grant liberty with other Christian families who enjoy participating in Halloween. There is nothing satanic about carving faces in pumpkins and dressing up in costumes to beg for candy. Besides, the neighbors want you to come beg for it.
Those folks who insist Halloween IS satanic (or Roman Catholic) are really pandering to superstition and attributing to the devil authority he does not have. And neither are Christians unwittingly synchronizing their convictions with paganism or Roman Catholicism. To suggest as much is silly. But again, if it is your conviction about Halloween, I will not judge you for maintaining those convictions. Just don’t tell me I am a compromiser or dishonoring God because my family goes trick or treating and has pumpkins sitting on our door steps.
Are there dark, ghoulish and even occultic elements to modern Halloween? Absolutely yes, I recognize that. Living in LA, Halloween is a huge business for various groups, production studios in particular, putting on state of the art haunted houses and theme park attractions. But I believe Christians are perfectly capable of exercising discernment so as to separate those dark, macabre elements like gory haunted houses and dressing like Texas chainsaw killers from the benign trick or treating and general costume parties. I don’t need to have a pulpit slapping Fundy preacher telling me such things are ungodly. I can figure it out.
On the flip side, I think those Christians who believe we must reclaim and redeem Halloween for Jesus are misguided, and ultimately wasting their time. As a believer, I really appreciate the fact that Halloween is tied to Martin Luther hammering his 95 thesis to the Wittenburg door and thus marking the start of the Reformation in 1517. As I stated, my wife and I emphasize the solas of the Reformation with our children around the week before Halloween. Our church does as well.
But I find it a tad goofy when Reformed minded – *cough* Postmill *cough* Reconstructionists *cough* – believers try and “Christianize” all the images and themes when they are in reality not. Most of those folks trying to rewrite Halloween point to an old article written by James B. Jordan called, Concerning Halloween, in which he desperately attempts to reinvent Halloween as a time when Christians dressed up like spooks and devils in order to mock Satan as a defeated enemy. Of course, there is absolutely no historical record that Christians even thought about devil costumes as “mocking the devil” or engaged the celebration of Halloween in that way.
Those Christians today who take the tactic of revising history need to face the fact that Halloween was originally a pagan festival celebrated in the pre-Christian British Isles and Northern Europe. Now it wasn’t the mobs of murdering druids roaming the Irish countryside kidnapping innocent people as Jack Chick wants us to believe, but Jesus being Lord over all the Earth doesn’t change the record of history.
Any reliable historical encyclopedia will tell you under the entry on “Halloween” that the pagans did believe the spirits of the departed walked the land for a time between fall and winter and the living folks dressed up in costumes and set fires in order to frighten them away. Moreover, the Catholic church did co-opt some of the practices and merged them with established Catholic holidays like All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. Luther strategically nailed his thesis on the church door on All Saint’s Day eve because the church would be opened to the public on November 1st in order to receive indulgences for the dead in Purgatory.
Rather than revising the history of Halloween in a Christianized allegorical fashion, I think the better thing for Christians to do if they wish to “redeem” Halloween is participate in some wholesome fashion like handing out candy bags with good, theologically sound tracts packed along with the candy. Churches can put together a fun activities night like a lot of the churches in my hometown. Preach sermons on the history of the Reformation. Do a series of talks on the Solas of the Reformation. Do a biographical sketch of the main Reformers. There is a rich history grounded in reality with those items. No need to create fantasy history that will only make the world mock you rather than you allegedly mocking the devil.