Halloween gets its names from All Hallows Evening, which is the night before All Hallows Day, a Catholic observance of all Christian martrys and other deceased believers. The word hallows means "to make sacred" (as in "hallowed be His name..."). The day was first declared a religious observance by the pope in AD 609 and later moved to its present date of November 1 by Pope Gregory IV in AD 835.
Catholic myth and tradition shaped the practices of the holiday. Catholics were taught to pray on All Hallows Day for the souls of those Christians still suffering in purgatory, and during the Middle Ages poor children began a tradition of begging door to door on All Hallows seeking handouts in honor of the departed saints' souls. William Shakespeare makes reference to this tradition in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, when a character in the play is accused of begging like someone on "Hallowmas."
The myths surrounding this day included a belief that the souls of the dead wander the earth each year until All Hallows seeking revenge against their enemies. Consequently, All Hallows Eve was thought to be the final night on earth for dead spirits to take their revenge.
Tradition held that if a person was disguised on All Hallows Eve, he might escape the revenge of an angry soul, who could not find his target before departing the earth on All Hallows Day. Other traditions like burning candles and making jack-o-lanterns were directed at scaring away the avenging souls on that night. During the Protestant Reformation, the holiday was denounced by Protestant leaders as ungodly and incompatible with biblical Christianity, but nevertheless the tradition persisted among many Christians.
In modern America the holiday has taken on new life as a night for parties, trick-or-treating, festivals, haunted houses and the like. Next to Christmas, Halloween has become the most commercially successful holiday on the calendar.
Meanwhile, many churches have taken to using the night as a community outreach opportunity, with names like "Fall Festival" or "Harvest Celebration" to distinguish the church celebration from a Halloween observance.
Given it's history and roots in pagan religion, the observance of Halloween has much to concern a born-again Christian.
First, the holiday perpetuates false ideas, heresy and myth concerning the spirit world, life after death and the power of the dead.
Secondly, the modern observance of Halloween remains closely associated with various occultic practices and celebrations, including real demonic activity, witchcraft, and sorcery. Though many see the day as little more than a excuse for candy and parties, the reality of demonic power and involvement in this day cannot be overstated. As Paul says,
Thirdly, our embracing of Halloween's imagery reinforces themes of darkness and evil that scripture warns a believer to set aside. Even a relatively "innocent" observance can promote a fascination with these themes among our children, leading them into deeper trouble in later years.
Finally, our participation in the holiday holds the potential to wound the conscience of new believers still wrestling with living out holiness and putting away sin.
So given these concerns, may a Christian celebrate or observe Halloween?
Clearly, Christians should consider carefully (and prayerfully) whether participating in Halloween is appropriate. We generally advise Christians against participating in Halloween for the reasons mentioned above.
On the other hand, our liberty in Christ gives us freedom to choose. As a Bible teaching ministry, we bear a special responsibility to present the Biblical perspective on every issue rather than our personal opinions and convictions. We believe it would be inappropriate for us to pronounce something to be wrong in all cases for all Christians, unless the Bible itself declares this to be the truth.
Furthermore, our ministry takes great care to emphasize the full measure of God's grace and the liberty made available to every believer in Christ. Liberty in Christ means a believer's actions are no longer judged by laws written on stone but according to a law written on our hearts, guided by God's word and enforced by the Holy Spirit.
When believers act according to the leading of the Spirit, in an attitude of love and with a heart to obey God's word, then they are walking in God's grace without condemnation and have liberty in many areas of life – and in some cases, liberty even to participate in activities that may have undesireable connotations or origins.
In cases where Scripture is silent on specific activities or practices (like Halloween), our ministry determines if liberty is available by asking one simple question: is it possible for a Christian, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, to participate in some way without sinning?
For example, could a Christian dress up as a clown (or other harmless character) and attend a costume party without sinning? Could a Christian walk around the neighborhood and stop at each home to ask for candy without sinning? Biblically speaking, these activities are not sins by themselves, and therefore we must conclude that a Christian has liberty to decide for himself whether and how to participate in Halloween. This kind of freedom is at the core of Paul's teaching in Colossians 2:16-17:
In this verse, Paul mentions that no one can sit in judgment over us regarding how we respond to "festivals" (which referred not only to the Jewish festivals but likely also included pagan celebrations like our Halloween). Paul taught those things hold no power over us, because they are merely shadows (symbols of power) for the one who has come to know God's true power in Christ.
Furthermore, a Christian might find opportunities to witness to unbelievers through participation in Halloween, at least to a degree.
In Acts Chapter 16, Paul commands his young protege, Timothy, get circumcised before he participates in Paul's ministry to the Jews. Paul does this so that Timothy may be more acceptable to the Jewish culture where he would be bringing the Gospel message (v. 3). Elsewhere in Paul's epistles, Paul speciﬁcally directs that a believing Gentile should not undergo circumcision (1Cor 7:18).
Why does Paul direct Timothy to be circumcised but then orders other men not be? The answer is that sometimes conforming to the unbelieving world in harmless ways can improve our chances to win them for Christ, while at other times our conforming may reduce our chances.
In the case of Timothy, submitting to circumcision made no difference in his relationship with Christ, yet it enhanced his opportunities to minister to the Jews. Consequently, Timothy wasn't wrong to practice circumcision given his intent to win Jews. On the other hand, Paul was ministering to a group in Corinth that was confused over whether circumcision was necessary for salvation, so to that group Paul prohibited the practice to make clear it was not required for salvation.
The same thinking guides our understanding of Halloween or any worldly practice. In deciding whether to participate in Halloween, we let scriptures like Col 2:16 be our guide, while making our decisions based on the Spirit's leading. In all cases, we must give careful consideration to how our behaviors impact our Christian witness to our friends and neighbors, both believer and unbeliever alike.
Finally, we must remember Paul's words from 1Cor 6:12 that though our liberty in Christ allows us to do many things, not all things are profitable for our spiritual well-being. For example, if we know a friend who is struggling with the occult or with new age teaching, then we would do better to avoid celebrating Halloween to avoid confusing them about the truth.
If you would like to hear more of our teaching on Christian liberty from Paul's writing in the New Testament, we highly recommend you listen to our Colossians study and our First Corinthians study. Both offer a clear and compelling explanation of Christian liberty in a world of ungodly possibilities. I believe you will be blessed by these studies.
We hope this explanation helps guide you in making your family decision, and as with all things, trust the Lord to make His will for you known in your hearts. Our calling is to obey His will – for if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.