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Responding to Halloween

Here is one question I would rather not answer, but that option has not been offered.  My hesitation in addressing this subject is found in the fact that Halloween is quite a contentious issue among various Christians.  Some believers feel that participation is acceptable.  Others propose peace through accommodation.  And, of course, many forcefully condemn Halloween and take umbrage with those believers who do not embrace such an impassioned denunciation of the holiday.  Perhaps evaluating this annual event's history might provide a more nuanced answer, which is this article's goal.

    Halloween is grounded in an ancient Celtic (a collection of Indo-European people) feast called Samhain (sah-ween). The day marked the end of summer and the harvest, starting the dark, cold winter.  This time of year was frequently linked with human death.  Celts believed that something spiritually negative took place on the eve of Samhain.  The boundary dividing those living in the present world and the dead in the realm beyond was punctured, resulting in hordes of demons being released to reign terror on the inhabitants of the Earth.  Along with witches and hobgoblins, these agents of evil maliciously attacked people.     

   These human victims sought a way to escape the assault by devising the strategy of disguising themselves.  Veiling themselves as witches, sprites, and phantoms, they hoped to dupe the evil spirits.  The people also attempted to ward off malevolent spirits by carving gruesome faces on gourds.  These cucurbits were lit with candles, and various treats were offered to the spirits, hoping they would be placated. 

     The Celts incorporated the aid of Druids during these challenging times.  The Druids were a high-ranking priestly class serving as legal authorities, medical specialists, and political consultants among the Celtics.  They were employed to predict the future, and it was believed the ghosts of the dead made this task easier.  The prophecies were received as comfort during the extended winter months.  The occasion was marked by the Druids building enormous bonfires that were considered sacred, where the people assembled to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic gods.

      The Roman Empire conquered the majority of Celtic territory by A.D. 43.  Over the following 400 years, the Romans incorporated two festivals with the celebration of Samhain.   Feralia was a day in late October when the Romans traditionally observed the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.   On May 13, A.D. 609, Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the remembrance of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church.   The first evidence for the November 1st  date of celebration and of the broadening of the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs occurred during the reign of Pope Gregory III (731–741), who dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s in Rome, on November 1st in acknowledgment of all saints.

     October 31st became a noteworthy day as it was designated to be a spiritually edifying holy day to proclaim the supremacy of the gospel over the superstition of ghosts.  “All Hallows Eve,” from which the word Halloween is derived, was an attempt on the part of Christianity to overwhelm the traditions of ghouls with the truth of Jesus Christ.

      Today, Christians should not be at odds with one another concerning their handling of the holiday.   For millions of believers, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and gather candy from their neighbors, having a night of innocent fun.   Other Christians see nothing blameless about that type of participation and view everything related to Halloween as demonic.  Many of these Christians have been delivered from a life of witchcraft and occultic practices and are guarded regarding this holiday. 

   Paul's teaching of Christian liberty might seem well-advised in this instance.  While comparisons are odious and typically illogical, we might be well to remember that nearly everything we do has an element of possible wrongdoing.  The argument can be made that Christians should never watch TV because every program and commercial has a component of opposition to God's holiness.  The Christmas and Easter celebrations have elements of paganism attached to them.  Even so, Christians commemorate these days despite their disagreeable aspects. The one caveat to the principle of Christian liberty is that such benefits are never to be used so they become a stumbling block to another Christian (Romans 14:13).



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