Making Real Decisions About Halloween

Christians don't automatically need to oppose it, but they should be concerned.

Someone remarked recently that Halloween has become our national Mardi Gras, and I believe it. You don't have to do much careful research to conclude that the Halloween season has gotten longer in recent years and that the focus is no longer primarily on children. Certainly, the costume displays I have been seeing in Southern California since mid-September are not dominated by Casper the Friendly Ghost outfits and pint-size witch's hats for kids. Most of the stuff is meant for raucous parties for big people.

I enjoyed Halloween as a kid. And my evangelical parents, not otherwise known for their laxity in enforcing standards against "worldly" behaviors, let me enjoy the day. Indeed, they enjoyed it, too. As soon as I was able to walk, they dressed me up in a homemade costume and took me door-to-door collecting treats. They themselves laid in plenty of candy supplies for the neighborhood kids, and they even on occasion turned our basement into a pseudo-horror chamber as a setting for a Halloween party for the church youth group. We knew some evangelical folks, of course, who thought Halloween was "of the devil"; but we considered them to be superpious killjoys.

There aren't too many things that I am more conservative about than the evangelical generation that raised me, but this is one of them. I still am not a hard-liner on the subject. My grandson's preschool puts on a Halloween party, and I don't lose sleep worrying about what they are doing to his soul. But evangelicals have been getting stricter on this matter, and I am sympathetic to the trend.

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Halloween can be traced to ancient times, when some pagans set aside a day to commemorate the end of summer. The spirits of dead people returned to earth at this time, they believed, taking the forms of cats and witches and the like. Fearful that these spirits might do them harm, people attempted to scare them away by building fires and displaying pictures of grotesque faces. They would also place food offerings at their doors, hoping that any visiting spirits would take the treat and forget the trick. Our lighted carved pumpkins, masks, and trick-or-treat rituals have their origins in these practices.

Christians can know all this and still not automatically be opposed to Halloween celebrations as such. We need to be aware here of what logicians call "the genetic fallacy"-which occurs when we assume that because something started off with a certain meaning, it still has that meaning. Many of our Christian holy days, and the practices associated with them, have pagan origins-but this does not mean that we should not have Christmas trees in our homes or celebrate Easter at a time when the ground begins to "birth" new life.

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