Why All Good Christians Should Celebrate Halloween

October 31st. For most Americans this date means one thing: **Halloween.** Costumes, candy and trick-or-treaters spending to the tune of $2.5 billion making this holiday second only to Christmas in marketing revenue. But good Christians don’t celebrate Halloween. Or do they? Some Protestants may prefer to call it Reformation Day, for after all, that is the date that Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door at Castle Church in Wittenberg back in 1517. That does pre-date the first usage of the phrase “All Hallows Eve” (commonly known now as Halloween) which didn’t emerge until some 40 years later in 1556.[1]

Ironically, most good Christians that I know won’t be celebrating either Reformation Day or Halloween. Instead, they will be showing support for their local church by attending a “safe and sanitary” alternative called a Fall Festival. This alternative allows good Christians to invite their neighbors and friends to come to the church and get candy, play games and have some good, clean Christian fun. No pagan witches and goblins allowed. But they can dress up as David or Moses or some other biblical character. All the fun without the pagan revelry, right?

I would like to propose another alternative – that good Christians should indeed celebrate Halloween. I think that they should stay home from their church’s alternative Fall Festival and celebrate with their pagan neighbors. Most of them wouldn’t have come to your Fall Festival anyway. And those who did would’ve stopped by briefly on their way to “real” trick-or-treating. I’m sure that some of you reading this blog might be more than a little unhappy with my proposal at this point, but stick with me for a moment.: The reason I propose that good Christians celebrate Halloween and stay home from the “Christian alternatives” is that Halloween is the only night of the year in our culture where lost people actually go door-to-door to saved people’s homes . . . and you’re down at the church hanging out with all your other good Christian friends having clean fellowship with the non-pagans.

Living with missional intentionality means that you approach life as a missionary in your context. I lived with my family in South Asia and we had to be creative and intentional in engaging our Muslim neighbors. We now live in the USA and we still need to be creative and intentional. That’s why for the past 2 years we have chosen to stay at home and celebrate the fact that Halloween gives us a unique opportunity to engage our neighbors. In fact, last year we had over 300 children and 200 adults come to our doorstep on that one night. And we were ready for them!

We had a tent set up in the driveway and gave away free coffee and water to the adults who were walking with their children. Our small group members manned the tent and engaged them in conversation and gave each one of them a gospel booklet (“The Story” gospel booklets are available with a Halloween distribution rate here: http://story4.us/offer). The children ran up to our door while the parents were waiting and got their candy, along with gospel booklets (even if they were dressed as witches or goblins!). In all we gave away more than 500 pieces of literature that night, each with our name, e-mail address, and a website where they could get more info.

I sure wish more good Christians would celebrate Halloween this year by staying home and meeting their pagan neighbors – an option which I believe surely beats the “good Christian” alternative.

[1] Simpson, John; Weiner, Edmund (1989). Oxford English Dictionary (second ed.). London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-861186-2. OCLC 17648714.

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  1. Heather   •  

    Well said. Thank you also for this posting. Christians live in their protective bubbles way too much! It is good to hear someone arguing not for Halloween but for knowing Christ and making Him known in the every day ordinary.

  2. Burt   •  

    Here’s how this Christian “responds” to Halloween … I spend the evening walking through the neighborhood with my wife & two kids enjoying their company & collecting yummy treats (often joining up with neighboring families who don’t attend church, nor view us as fellow devil worshipers for “celebrating” Halloween).

    Gheesh people – let’s just be normal with this holiday and let our distinctiveness be found in things like peace, love, joy, kindness, patience, etc. If the mission is indeed what drives us, then non-participation in this is really not an option.

    I’m really glad my children don’t know they “aren’t supposed” to be doing this horrible thing in order to be good Christians.

    PS … Our family has led two ENTIRE families in our neighborhood to Christ over the past three years – one of whom we met while trick-or-treating. Thank God we weren’t acting like hermits on the night we met them & formed a friendship.

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  4. Jim   •  

    Just a suggestion: if you do give out gospel tracts, make sure you also give out the BEST candy in the neighborhood, too. That way they will associate Christianity with positive feelings. Those homeowners that just give the tracts are often ignored by the Trick-or-Treaters the next year.

    We sat out at the end of the driveway last year and had a bubble machine going full blast, and kids ran past neighbors houses to get to our driveway. Often they would forget about the candy just to have fun in the bubbles!!!


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  8. Jessica Patterson   •  

    Halloween (Hallowe’en, Hallowtide, Hallowmas, Allhallow-even) is short for “All Hallows Even” which means “All Saints Eve”. It is the eve before All Saints Day, a Catholic day to honor all the saints who do not already have a feast day of their own. All Saints Day was originally celebrated on May 13 when Pope Boniface IV rededicated the Pantheon in Rome to ‘St. Mary and All Martyrs’ in 609 A.D. (May 13 was also the final day of the Roman holiday of the dead called Lemuria). It was moved to November 1 in the 8th century when Pope Gregory III dedicated St. Peter’s Basilica to all the saints. In the late 10th or early 11th century All Souls Day was added as a day to pray for the souls in purgatory and attend a requiem mass to honor the faithful Christian dead.

    Folk customs surrounding All Souls are the origin of the belief that the dead come back on Halloween. People would visit cemeteries, decorate relatives’ graves, and leave food offerings for the dead. In some areas they would set a place at the table or arrange chairs around the fireplace for the returning souls of the dead. In Ireland people would also sometimes leave food for the fairies (divine or semi-divine beings – mainly the Tuatha de Danann – who could be dangerous, and not the little creatures with wings that we think of today). Pagan Roman customs probably also influenced the tradtition of ‘feeding’ the dead since it was a part of their feast days for honoring their ancestors (Parentalia and Feralia which took place in February).

    Samhain had an influence on Halloween in Ireland, and that is the version that turned into what we know as Halloween today. Samhain is mentioned in numerous medeival Irish sagas as a day of great importance. It was a day of feasting, games, drinking, great battles, heroic feats and interaction between mortals and the realm of the fairies. In Ireland the customs that are associated with Halloween are the same as the ones mentioned in the sagas as being part of Samhain: divination, partying, the belief that the supernatural beings that came to be known as fairies mingle with humans on this night. Today ‘Samhain’ is the Irish word for the month of November. Oiche Shamnha is Irish for Halloween; it means the “eve of Saman (Samhain)” or the “eve of November 1”. The name is like July 4th in the United States in that it is both the name of the holiday and the date.

    All Saints and All Souls celebrations in the Americas can be traced back to the arrival of the Spanish missionaries and French Jesuit missionaries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Native Americans adopted these traditions and combined them with their native celebrations. These feast days are still celebrated today as Mexico’s Day of the Dead, the Zuni ahoppa awan tewa, the Odawa Ghost Supper, shuma sashti, Todos Santos, and other native celebrations.

    In the nineteenth century Irish and Scottish immigrants settled in the United States and brought their Halloween customs with them. Unlike the more solemn, purely Catholic observance of All Saints/All Souls Day typical in continental Europe, the Irish version was more of a fun harvest festival in nature. Victorian-era Americans quickly adopted this holiday as an excuse to throw parties, send greeting cards, and perform lighthearted divination spells to determine the identity of one’s future spouse.

    Halloween is now considered an American holiday, even though it is a bank holiday in Ireland. In many parts of Europe All Saints is still celebrated in its traditional Catholic form, in other places modern Halloween is celebrated side-by-side with All Saints, and in places like Mexico and South America it has become a separate and distinct holiday (that still maintains its Catholic connection). All Saints is a public holiday in many European and South American countries.

    No one knows for sure where the wearing of costumes on Halloween came from, and trick-or-treat is original to the United States (first mentioned in writing in the 1930’s). However, there were a lot of practices throughout history, mostly in Europe but some of these were adopted in parts of America, that were very similar. These costuming and begging practices were done at Christmas, New Years, All Saints/All Souls, and Hogmanay and were known as souling, guising, mumming, wassailing, and belsnickling. Souling is the one that was done during All Saints/All Souls. It was a custom where children would offer to say prayers for the souls in purgatory in exchange for ‘soul cakes’. A lot of people believe that the ancient Celts wore costumes at Samhain, but there is no historic evidence to support this idea. SPREAD THE WORD OF TRUTH! NOT MISCONCEPTION!

  9. Ryan Lintelman   •  

    So you’re saying there’s no way a Fall Festival can be intentional? You’re saying none of our “pagan neighbors” will attend a fall festival? I don’t intend to denigrate your ideas, I just don’t understand why you felt the need to denigrate and the ideas of others. Ideas that can and have worked for community impact in many contexts.

  10. George Robinson   •  

    Jessica – thanks for the history lesson. I’m not so sure that everyone that showed up at my house last night were supporting or even would support all that the holiday historically entailed. For the most part I just met lots of kids who like to play dress up and like to eat candy. They didn’t pray for me, but I did take the opportunity to pray for them and expose them to the TRUE story of the whole world (www.yourpartinthestory.com).

    Ryan – hyperbole brother. Jesus used it to make people rethink the traditions that they had grown accustomed to. In my article, I’m attempting to do the same. You can see my comment above dated Oct 1, 2010.

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  13. Kris Blanchard   •  

    Dr. Robinson,

    A very helpful thought piece! For years, I had been a part of the majority view that participating in Halloween was somehow un-Christian, or rather “not what good Christians ought to be spending their time doing”. But as I learned in your Evanglism course last year, living with Missional Intentionality means adopting the type of perspective on everything we encoutnter that seeks to love people well and point people to Jesus. Could it be that, in our very effort to remain obedient and faithful to Christ, we have un-knowingly squandered countless opportunities to be the very gospel witness in our communities we always say we desire to be.

    What better way to demonstrate the love of Christ for sinners, and share the message of hope, than by spending our time serving those who need Christ; who are arriving at our doorsteps by the multitudes for at least one night. Our Savior invested His entire earthly ministry amongst the sinners, tax-collectors, community rejects, and sick lepers. Who are we to believe we have been called to minister differently?

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