December 12, 2017

Something Happened to Halloween While I Was Away for College

Don Johnson

When I was a child, Halloween was a community event. Bands of urchins roamed the streets, begging for (and receiving) loads of candy. Neighborhood friends would join together, compare treasures, the heft of our sacks, the brilliance (or not) of our costumes… Sugar highs endured for weeks. Schools made rules about how much candy you could eat while in a learning environment… It was truly an event for which I have fond memories.

There were some negative connotations — older young people would often do things that caused Law Enforcement people to attend their homes — but for the most part the event was a time for fun for the whole neighborhood, Christian and non-Christian alike. Christians tended to avoid certain themes[1] and some churches had begun the tradition of having a “Harvest Party” or even a “Reformation Day” in their churches when I was in my teens and had basically “grown out of” the immaturity of the Halloween event.

The day didn’t much register with me as I went off for college – it certainly held no place there and the broader culture of our community didn’t emphasize anywhere near the degree it is emphasized today. The fact is, I didn’t think much about it for about a decade after high school when I began having children of my own. Suddenly, it seemed, I was confronted by shocked Christians who couldn’t believe I was ambivalent towards Halloween. “How could you think that way?” was the theme of the responses. Clearly the climate had changed since the idyllic days of my boyhood.

What happened? What should a Christian think about Halloween today?

I am sure there are numerous articles on the internet where you can find all kinds of opinions about Halloween, its history and its negative connotations. You’ll have to weigh through all you read on your own, but I want to add a few comments on the idea of conscience and Christian conviction.

My nephew sent a link to an article that in some respects highlights my impression of the changes that took place over the last fifty years with respect to Halloween. I don’t endorse the author, but my reaction to what he wrote is that he seems reasonable in his explanations and seems to have researched his representations fairly carefully. His thesis seems to be to debunk some of the traditional arguments made concerning the holiday, but I want to note one of his observations that reflects my own experience:

Halloween remained mostly a children’s holiday until the late 1970s when Hollywood took up the imagery and customs, and the holiday exploded in popularity. Adults increasingly participated in dress-up parties of their own, and the commercialization grew exponentially. More recently the horror elements have increased, though they have also taken on a camp element, most notably in the ubiquitous zombies.

While I was away at college,[2] it appears the atmosphere around Halloween drastically changed. Many Christians reacted to this and withdrew from participation altogether. They would cite connections with paganism, the occult, and the celebration of death. Some would speak of these things so strongly as to suggest you were indeed in sin if you participated at all.

Participation was not an issue, really, until our little children began to be old enough to join the neighbourhood throngs going door to door in search of sugar highs. Our two oldest children went out with us in tow for one or two years before we decided to stop participating (other than giving candy and tracts! at the door). What changed?

For us, it was not the arguments against Halloween as such. It was friendship with a couple who told us their testimony somewhere along in the early days of our friendship. The wife of this couple had been heavily involved in the occult before her conversion. She now had a wonderful testimony of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, was serving the Lord faithfully and, with her husband, had become a dear friend of our family.

Halloween was never mentioned by this couple, but as the holiday approached that year, we were stricken in conscience lest we offend the conscience of our friend. We gave up Halloween for her sake, though she never mentioned it.

Some of my readers will find my attitude to be problematic. You may well say there are so many evil things connected with Halloween that Christians should not participate period. You would be basing that argument, I think, on 1 Corinthians 8-10 and the subject of meat offered to idols. Without a doubt, I would agree that the evil things currently celebrated in the Halloween festivities certainly qualify for an example of modern idolatry. Those evil things should have no part of the Christian experience, and a call for total separation (personal) from them is warranted. How that separation is achieved may be a matter for debate, but I would agree, we should have no part with vampires, werewolves, the celebration of death, zombies, and the like.

My personal attitude has been one driven by conscience, in keeping with Romans 14. I do not have a conscience against giving out candy (or receiving candy, as long as I can keep it in my calorie count!). I don’t have a conscience about dressing up in costumes. No problem. You want to dress up and look silly? Go for it! (But some costumes are evil – you should stay away from them, at least.)

What is of primary importance to me, however, is that my actions don’t harm the conscience of fellow believers. I don’t want to be a cause of stumbling to someone who has had a serious stumbling block in the area of the occult, for example. Our friend, mentioned, earlier, was a case in point. She has since moved away, but our stance initially was that her friendship and her Christian life was far more important to us than our kids getting candy door-to-door.

Since that time, our kids have grown up and the secular celebration of Halloween has gotten worse, not better. I would think that there is much about it that Christians should avoid. Perhaps they should completely separate from it. I leave that to individuals to work out in their own minds before the Lord. But I would say, if you have unbelievers ringing your door-bell and hollering for candy, give them some! Along with a gospel tract or two. And pray for them. These young people and their families need the light of Jesus Christ in their lives. I would think that if someone came to him out of the darkness of Halloween, he would be pleased.


Final note: These opinions are my own. I suspect that other members of the FBFI might disagree with me at points (or in toto!). I invite their own articles on the subject. I’d be glad to publish them for our reader’s consideration.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

  1. although I recall having a “skull-mask” on some occasions – a nasty plastic thing that soon was dripping with condensation from my own breath []
  2. the 70s, not when Noah got off the ark! []

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