Should we celebrate Halloween as Christians? This question came up during a recent discussion with fellow pastors, where I bemoaned the popularity of trunk or treats.
If you are unfamiliar with this term, a trunk or treat is a relatively new celebration usually hosted by churches in their parking lots around the time of Halloween. At a trunk or treat, kids to go from car to car - rather than from house to house - in order to receive candy. The idea here is for churches to “reclaim” Halloween from pagan tradition, but if I’m honest, I find trunk or treats, or the rejection of Halloween, as more of a loss than any sort of Christian gain. Very few holidays celebrate community like Halloween. It seems like it’s one of the few excuses we have left to knock on our neighbor’s door and make small talk with other parents in the neighborhood. My practice usually is to dress up like the Swedish Chef, and then pester the kids as they come to the door. It’s great fun. Last year I had 10-15 kids at a time dancing the floss in every costume imaginable.
Halloween actually began as a Christian holiday, although whether it usurped another pagan holiday remains undetermined. Halloween is just another way of saying, “All Saints Eve.” It’s a holiday in which the church celebrates all of the saints who have died in the last year.
We have the freedom to joyfully participate in neighborhood fun with the love of our neighbor in mind.
Folklore expanded it also to be a holiday that acknowledges the supernatural and the existence of evil spirits. The idea of costumes seems to have similar origins to that of gargoyles on gothic cathedrals, as a way of keeping the demons at bay. It’s easy to see how such a custom morphs into the fun of scaring brothers and sisters or neighborhood friends. Despite its roots or offshoots, Scripture is clear we have freedom when it comes to these things because our righteousness is found in Christ, not within our candy practices on October 31. This freedom is rooted in the baptismal promises given to us through Christ’s death and resurrection:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross...Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath (Col. 2:13-14, 16).
Our debts are canceled and our trespasses forgiven, we have been justified and made new. This means we have the freedom to joyfully participate in neighborhood fun with the love of our neighbor in mind.
Don’t make Jesus into a cosmic killjoy. Parents have every right to monitor their kid’s costumes and activity on a night like Halloween. There might be very good reasons for keeping kids from certain parties where drugs, alcohol, and other inappropriate activities may be encouraged. Such concerns are synonymous with good parenting. However, as a pastor, I cringe when Jesus Christ is blamed as the killjoy. In other words, don’t make Christ into the reason your kids can’t do something that he neither commands nor forbids. In this way, Christianity is needlessly associated with a bunch of made-up rules, rather than the forgiveness of sins.
When you tell your kids they cannot trick or treat because they are Christians and good Christians don’t do such things, you turn Christian freedom into Christian bondage. Such talk removes justification by grace through faith as the means by which one is saved and replaces it with holy and right living as the means to salvation. You teach your kids that God cares more about their behavior than he cares for them because they are sinners in need of grace.
Like all legalistic approaches to Christianity and the Christian life, denouncing Halloween just for the sake of denouncing it does not serve the cause of Christ. He has not given us a spirit of fear with which to fall back into the slavery of the law, but one of power, love, and self-control.