By Jeff Smelser
Halloween presents us with a splendid opportunity to discuss Christmas. Nonsense? Not at all! The perennial questions concerning the Christian’s view toward Christmas basically involve three factors: (1) What was the original meaning of the December 25th celebration? (2) What is the Christian’s intent who celebrates on December 25th? (3) What care should be taken by the Christian in order that his intent not be misconstrued by others? These same factors are involved with the observance of Halloween.
What Was The Original Meaning Of The Day?
As with Christmas, a combination of pagan ritual and perverted Christianity account for the origin of Halloween. “Pope” Boniface IV (608-615) designated May 13 as “All Saints Day” upon the rededication of the Roman Pantheon. This was to be a day of veneration for all those who had become martyrs for their faith. However, observance of the day was not widespread until the ninth century when the date was changed to November 1, perhaps to accommodate the Druidic practices of some of the Celtic tribes then being assimilated into Roman Catholicism. Whatever the reason for choosing the date of November 1, most of our Halloween traditions originated in the rites and superstitions of the Druids. According to an article by Harold L. Myra, the Druids believed that at the end of the summer, the beginning of the Celtic year:
Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans, who could escape only by assuming disguises and looking like evil spirits themselves. The waning of the sun and the approach of dark winter made the evil spirits rejoice and play nasty tricks (“is Halloween A Witches’ Brew?”, Christianity Today, 10/22/82, p. 32).
The name Halloween itself reflects the Roman Catholic influence in its history. All Saints Day was also called All Hallow’s Day. October 3 1, the eve of All Hallow’s Day, was known as “All Hallow’s Fen.”
Whatever the intent of the costumed Druids or of the Roman Catholics, there is obviously nothing inherently wrong with putting on a costume, knocking on someone’s door to ask for candy, or carving a face on a vegetable. However, if the individual is costumed for the purpose of evading evil spirits, or observes Halloween as a day of preparation for worshiping saints on the following day, then of course there is something wrong. Hence, we must consider . . .
The Intent Of The Individual
That it is possible to participate in some of the activities associated with Halloween without any intention of venerating saints, or engaging in pagan ritual, hardly needs proving. A six-year-old child trick-or-treating in a Superman costume knows nothing of Samhain and certainly is not trying to evade evil spirits. And atheists who participate in Halloween activities certainly have no intention of venerating saints. Although perhaps more people are somewhat more familiar with the history of Christmas, it is equally true that an individual may participate in many of the activities associated with this holiday without any pagan or so-called “Christian” intention. I say so-called because, in fact, the concept of a special Christ-mass in observance of Jesus’ birth, and the setting aside of December 25 as a holy day are not truly Christian, but human in origin.
But even though one’s intentions are innocent, one last consideration is involved . . .
How One’s Intent Is Perceived By Others
Jesus said, ” Whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! for it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh! ” (Mt. 18:6-7). Paul, His apostle, wrote, “Give no occasion of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). He expressed his willingness to forgo his rights to avoid causing another to stumble when he wrote, ” Wherefore, if meat causeth my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, that I cause not my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13). The Christian is not concerned only about himself, but also about others. Therefore, he will see to it that his participation in Halloween activities in no way lends credence to any pagan superstition or so-called Christian connotations. Likewise, during the Christmas season, he will be careful not to leave the impression that there is something sacred about December 25 in the eyes of God. And certainly one can imagine circumstances in which a Christian should forgo all participation in activities associated with such holidays. Had a Celtic Christian explained to his Druid neighbor the gospel of Jesus Christ while donning an evil spirit costume, he certainly would have laid a stumbling block in front of his friend. If my brother in Christ is one just converted out of Roman Catholicism, I would certainly need to be careful that I not leave the impression that there is a Christ-mass for Christians to observe, or that I think there is a Christmas for Christians to observe. And I will have the attitude of Paul, that if Christmas causeth my brother to stumble, I will observe no Christmas for evermore, that I cause not my brother to stumble!
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 21, p. 649
November 1, 1984