Halloween, Horror Films, and Haunted Houses
I’d like to address a cultural issue that I believe the church is typically nervous about addressing. You know me... I'm not. And I’m willing to bet it’s a cultural issue that affects almost every single one of us. Should Christians celebrate the holiday known as Halloween and all the trappings that surround it? FYI, I believe Beggars night can serve as a good opportunity to meet your neighbors and be the light of Christ in your community - and yes, my daughters will be wearing Disney princess dresses.
Let’s start by seeking to firmly understand the origins of Halloween. The Celtic people who lived in the land that is now Ireland, Great Britain, and France, had a festival on October 31st every year called “Samhain”. It was the end of their calendar year, so it was something like our celebration of New Years Eve. The day marked the end of the summer and beginning of the winter (which symbolized darkness, cold, and death). Some said it was the end of the “lighter half” of the year and the beginning of the “darker half”. November 1st was called 'The Day of Death'. They believed something very strange and otherworldly happened on the eve of that day: the dead would walk among the living. It was a night full of divination and fortune telling. They believed that everyone who had died during that year would rise up from their grave on that night and move to the underworld and people who had already passed into the underworld could freely come back. As one writer says, the gates between the worlds were wide open and the veil of separation between the two worlds was very thin. This is where the idea of ghosts on Halloween came from. The Celtic people believed that in order to ward off the evil spirits, they should dress up in appalling costumes to convince the spirits that they were spirits too. They would light big bonfires and sacrifice a share of their crops to the gods. In many other cultures similar festivals were held – some were even called “the festival of the dead”. Halloween is also New Years Eve for those who practice Wicca (pagan witchcraft) – a night when communication with the dead is said to be easiest. When Christianity spread throughout Europe, one of the church's strategies was to take pagan traditions and infuse Christian concepts into them. So, they adopted the name “All Hallows Eve” (later shortened to “Hallowe-en”) and changed the date of their 'Celebration of the Saints' from April 20th to November 1st. For some strange reason, trying to fuse a pagan festival together with a godly celebration didn’t work… and while the name changed, the focus of the night continued to be death and supernatural phenomenon.
Halloween didn’t exist in America at first, but came into existence in the 1800's when immigrants from Ireland and Scotland introduced their Halloween customs. They brought various beliefs about ghosts and witches with them. Other groups added their own cultural influences to Halloween customs: German immigrants brought a vivid witchcraft lore, while Haitian and African peoples brought their native voodoo beliefs about black cats, fire, and witchcraft. All of this combined to create a day of celebration that doesn't have any root in the Jesus movement.
Fast forward to the year 2013 and we still see the ancient traditions abounding. We’ve taken the liberty of adding in the element of terror with haunted houses, haunted trails, and scary movies. Just watch your TV for a few minutes or go to the Redbox and see the latest in a long line of horror films descending from the original terror movie from 1978 called (you guessed it) “Halloween”. And many followers of Jesus have jumped on the bandwagon – we've made a habit of supporting these things. But let me ask you this follower of Jesus: what is it about the celebration of evil things that so resonates with the Holy Spirit inside you? What is it about a serial killer with a chain saw that reinforces the good news of the Kingdom of God? What is pure about vampires (the drinking of blood and distortion of sexual acts)? How can you sit through a movie that glorifies demonic activity terrorizing a family without the Holy Spirit compelling you to leave?
Maybe you’ve misinterpreted something deep inside yourself. You say, “I like the sensation of fear”. But let me suggest that fear is a response intended only for God – what you feel is “terror”. That feeling you get when you’re in that haunted house or watching that scary movie is not fear at all – it’s actually the thing God put inside you in order to help you know when a situation is deeply wrong – it’s supposed to make you leave, not make you stay. Have we come to believe that God was kidding when he told the Israelites that anyone who practices fortune-telling or sorcery, or interprets omens, or engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead is an object of horror and disgust to the Lord? Why would he give them those instructions? Well, because these things are real. Johanna Michaleson, former occultist and author of The Beautiful Side of Evil said, “For a true Christian to participate in the ancient trappings of Halloween is as incongruous as for a committed Satanist coming from blood sacrifices on Christmas Eve to set up a nativity scene in his living room singing Silent Night, Holy Night with sincere devotion to baby Jesus!”
In 2 Corinthians 6 Paul asks, “what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? What communion does light have with darkness?” Ephesians 5:7-12 says, “Don't participate in the things these people do. For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, rebuke and expose them.”
Should you take your children trick or treating? What about dressing up in costumes and going to parties? What's up with carving a pumpkin (this tradition comes from remembering the fallen saints)? I think each follower of Jesus should use their own discernment on these matters. But I will not be silent when it comes to the glorification of witchcraft, ghosts, demons, and so on – these things are God’s opponents and should have zero place in the lives of people who are chasing after Jesus and living according to his mission. My fear is that these things have become so commonplace among us, that we don't even realize just how opposed they are to our God. Jesus came to destroy the work of Satan, death, and everything evil– it was so important to His mission that He gave up His life. What does it say about us then if we make light of and even participate in the celebration of those things? Do we really believe Satan doesn't relish the opportunity to be present among us when we invite him to be? There is no better way for Satan to render the church ineffective than by duping them into thinking that the things he stands for are no big deal.