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Halloween: is it a Romans 14 issue?

Pumpkin with cross carvingAs the high street and supermarkets increasingly embrace Halloween, Rev Mark Fairweather Tall considers whether it is a festival that Christians should have nothing to do with or just a bit of harmless fun.

Once again this year I have been struck by how the celebration of Halloween seems to be getting bigger and bigger.  The supermarkets have large displays of masks and clothes for dressing up. There are large stocks of pumpkins ready for making into a decoration rather than eating. Bakeries provide an array of tasty goods decorated with cobwebs, witches hats and the like. Displays in shop windows reflect that this is a day that will be marked as ‘out of the ordinary’. 

All of this may simply be commercialisation as shops attempt to boost profits before the main business of Christmas fully gets in to swing. However, it made me think about my Christian response to Halloween, especially as I am aware that it won't be many years before my daughters will be of an age when they are likely to start receiving invitations to Halloween parties. What do I feel about that and how will I respond?

I have met with different Christian viewpoints when it comes to Halloween. Some people are very against it and have asked me to preach against it, convinced that all Christians and their families should have nothing to do with it. Others believe it is a fuss about nothing and we should let our children carry on with what is essentially harmless fun – a bit of dressing up and some party games. To deny their children the opportunity to go to a party that all their friends are invited to seems a bit over the top to them. It can leave us in a bit of a quandary as to what is the right thing to do. Time, perhaps, to think through some of the issues.

The word ‘Halloween’ was first used in the 16th century (according to my reliable source – Wikipedia!) and is a Scottish variant to the fuller “All Hallows Evening”. All Hallows Day (1st November) was a time of honouring the saints and praying for those who had recently died. Some believed that the souls of those who died wandered the earth until All Hallows Day. Halloween was the last day where the souls could cause havoc before they departed to the next world. People dressed up so that they would not be recognised by any soul seeking vengeance on them for some offence when they were alive.

Many believe that Halloween has pagan origins through the Celts and druids. The Celtic festival of Samhain which is Old Irish for ‘Summer’s end’ was a time of preparing for the cold winter ahead and marked the beginning of a New Year. It was seen as a time when the ‘door to the other world’ was thin enough for souls of the dead and fairies to come into the world of the living. Feasts were held for those spirits people wanted to celebrate (including family members who had died in the previous year) whilst others were warded off through certain actions like lighting bonfires. Divination and fortune-telling became an important part of the holiday.

Those who argue Christians should have nothing to do with Halloween point out its pagan origins and the fact that for many witches and occultists Halloween is a serious festival. It is a day when occult activity is encouraged and it is too easy for both adults and children to become involved. The day is noted for divination and fortune-telling and so it encourages people’s interest in the ‘spirit world’. What is more, the strong roots in paganism and worship of Satan means that to take any part in Halloween is to go against the teaching of the Bible: for example, Ephesians 5:11 says: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Therefore, no Halloween activity is innocent and is in fact anti-Christian.

However, others point out that children’s Halloween parties are harmless fun. A similarity might be drawn to people exchanging Christmas presents and putting up decorations – it is a far cry from embracing the true meaning of Christmas. In fact Christians often complain that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost amidst commercialisation. Playing games like ‘apple bobbing’, dressing up, telling scary stories and the like are not dangerous and do not dishonour God. To seek to stop children taking part in them gives a negative impression of a rule-based Christianity that will do more damage than to simply let it go.

As I ponder, I wonder if Halloween is a ‘Romans 14’ issue. Paul writes: “Therefore let us stop passing judgement on one another... As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.” Romans 14: 13a & 14.

Many children's activities around Halloween are innocent enough, but for some the roots of Halloween make it 'unclean' and something to be avoided at all costs.
They are right to do so. For others, though, it may be that dressing up and going to a party which may focus on 'scary' things is not seen to be 'unclean' in itself.

Perhaps the most divisive thing is when Christians fall out over the issue. We should seek to ensure that the issue of Halloween does not divide and cause us to place people in different ‘spiritual leagues’ of maturity.

My own personal view of Halloween is that I see it as celebrating the dark things of the world and that there are better things to celebrate. We have the light of Jesus and the good news that: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11.Why get caught up with Halloween when we can glorify the one above all?

That is why I am glad that at Norwich Central Baptist Church we are marking Halloween by having a Light Party. Let us celebrate the light! Games like apple bobbing can still be included; children can dress up (maybe in the brightest clothes they can find!) but at the heart of all that we are celebrating is that Jesus is the light in this dark world. That sounds like a party worth having! 

Rev Mark Fairweather Tall is the Minister of Norwich Central Baptist Church.  
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Photo: Sarah Phillips of Hope House Press, as featured on the Vicar's Wife blog

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