Saturday, October 31, 2015

Thoughts on Halloween

There are many Christians that see Halloween as a demonic holiday.   They probably mean well in their show of disdain and scorn for it.  However, I don’t completely agree with them.  I understand where they’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s fully right to brand Halloween as essentially evil and declare that those who enjoy it are sinning.  I don’t believe that it’s necessarily a time of glorifying darkness and evil.  On the contrary, I think it’s a capital opportunity in declaring the Light (but I’m getting ahead of myself; more on this later)!

In this article, I will be discussing my thoughts on Halloween.  As usual in discussing these matters, I will do my best in tackling this in accordance to God’s standards.  But, of course, it’s always a possibility that I’m wrong with my beliefs and arguments, and I always welcome instruction and correcting from wiser people.  Nevertheless, at this point, what I will be laying down below is something I believe to be acceptable, logical, and would exalt Christ in the matter at hand (i.e. Halloween).

Background of Halloween

It’s considered by several historical sources that Halloween originated in an ancient pagan Celt festival named Samhain, on which the Celts simultaneously celebrated their harvest time and new year (November 1).  The ancient Celts also believed that during the last day of their calendar year (October 31), the spirits of the dead haunted the world of the living, so they would wear masks to ward off ghosts.

When the ninth century rolled in, Medieval Christians started celebrating “All Saints’ Day” on November 1.  Some historians hypothesized that, like the case with other pagan holidays, this was done by Christians in order to neutralize Samhain.  Vigils were done a night before the feast, and it came to be known as All Hallows’ Eve (“hallow” means “saint”, so it’s basically “All Saints’ Day Eve”) or Halloween, as the Scots put it.

The practice of dressing up for fun started with young people in Britain in the 16th century, which they called “guising.”  These merrymaking, costumed young people would go house to house asking for “treats” in exchange for jokes, poems, or songs.  And this tradition would be carried over by immigrants to America, and would evolve into the Halloween that we know of today.

There’s also an alternative, darker belief on the origin trick-or-treating.   Some say that it started with the Druids, wherein they would go house to house to collect virgins or children as human sacrifice for their pagan rituals.  But what is being done in the present is closer to that 16th century fad than this ancient pagan practice.

Modern Halloween Does Not Necessarily Celebrate Evil

It’s inappropriate to use Halloween’s pagan origin against it.  The relation of modern Halloween to the pagan practices of Samhain is pretty insubstantial, if there’s still one at all.  If you would choose to condemn Halloween because of its pagan connections, then you should also condemn Christmas, Easter, worshiping on the day of Sunday, and birthdays because all of these also have links to ancient paganism.  It was only because early Christians Christianized these pagan celebrations and practices – redeeming them and redirecting their purposes and form into those that will glorify God instead – that we modern Christians deem them appropriate in the present.

You may counter, “Regardless of its pagan connections or lack thereof, doesn’t modern Halloween celebrate darkness and horror anyway, and thus, it’s a demonic holiday nevertheless?”  That may or not may be true.  Either way, it’s not the really the heart of issue.  I will elaborate later on, but let me give my personal opinion about it.  I don’t think Halloween celebrates darkness per se, but a fictionalized version of it; “horror” in this context is that of fantasy.  Witches, ghouls, vampires, and other monsters – as they are being depicted in Halloween – are make-believe.  They aren’t any different from any other fictional characters – whom, by the way, people are also dressing up as during Halloween.  If anything else, the merriness is rooted in the dressing up and the treats obtained from dressing up, and not from having a delight in darkness per se.

Also worth noting is the overlooked fact that the original purpose of the early Christians to  illustrate the Devil with horns, tail, red suit, and pitchfork is not to lionize him and depict him as terrifying, but to mock him!  Martin Luther once said that “the best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn.”  The popular visual representation of the Devil is for satire rather than for horror.  Thus, if one dresses up as the Devil in this appearance, it’s actually more apt that it’s to ridicule than to honor – as what early Christians had intended.

So the “darkness” of Halloween doesn’t necessarily pertain to its actual essence, but merely a make-believe caricature.

Maybe there are some – Satan worshipers – who deliberately celebrate evil during Halloween.  But, as mentioned above, that’s not how Halloween is being essentially considered by most people.  It only becomes “demonic” if one treats it as such.  Besides, how the world celebrates a tradition or holiday has no bearing at all on how Christians should approach it.

Halloween Is a “Man-Made Pleasure”, Thus, Permissible… to an Extent

I’ve already written a more in-depth essay about man-made pleasures as a whole in the past (I suggest you read that, too).  But the arguments there also apply for Halloween.

Halloween has elements of fun and thrill and delight and beauty.  I’m personally charmed of the impressive, intricate work on the costumes and props being made; the generosity for candies and other gifts; the creative pumpkin designs; the entertaining Halloween cartoons; and the jovial and excited atmosphere.  So, clearly, there’s something pleasurable about Halloween.  And Christian should treat Halloween like how he or she treats any other pleasures that he encounters in this world – be that a tradition, a work of art, or a celebration – that they are gifts from God (John 1:17) which he or she must be thankful for (1 Timothy 4:4), enjoy in accordance to His provided instruction (according to the parameters of His Word; e.g. sex is only for married couples, consume in moderation, etc.), and, most importantly, be able to project the delight he or she derives from them into his or her ultimate delight in God.

Of course, since this world is a fallen one, the pleasures that God had intended for good are warped and now tend to misplace our joy and satisfaction.  Good thing is we Christians can repurpose them for the glory of God.  While the world enjoys these pleasures wrongly and incompletely in its own way, we can however take what is beautiful, discard or cure what is corrupted, and then sanctify these pleasures to serve as things that can glorify God.  (Yes, I believe Halloween can be sanctified, too.  I will be discussing this a little bit later.)

In accordance to 1 Corinthians 6:12, we Christians – who are already free from the Law – are given the freedom to eat anything, drink anything, and do anything (as long as it’s not sinful).  However, 1 Corinthians 10:31 also stated that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we should do it for the glory of God.  Therefore, we are permitted and allowed to do anything as long as we don’t neglect glorifying God through it.  So how can we then glorify God through our enjoyment of a particular pleasure – in this matter, Halloween?  We should first ask these things:
1.) Will we get a lesson from it?  Will it help us in our pursuit of holy living?
2.) Will it make us contemplate of God’s goodness and other attributes?
3.) Will enjoying it sharpen our own ultimate joy in God?
4.) Will we able to use it to point others to God? 
If the answers are all affirmative, then why not?  Let’s go enjoy it.

On the other hand, if there are doubts that we’ll be able to achieve those things, then it might be preferable to abstain from it.  Besides, in the same verse that declared we are permitted to do anything (1 Corinthians 6:12), it’s also pointed out that not everything is beneficial.  Hence, we should also consider carefully if enjoying a particular pleasure will truly benefit us and others.  Even if we’re permitted to enjoy something, we should still ask ourselves further:
1.) While enjoying it, will there be a high risk of being tempted to sin?
2.) Will I offend or trouble others when I proceed to enjoy it?
3.) Will I cause someone to stumble in his or her faith when I proceed to enjoy it?
If these would be the case, then we probably would please God more if we choose to abstain from it, even if it’s permissible to be enjoyed.

Glorifying God and recognizing that God is our greatest joy.  That should be what’s paramount to us Christians.  In the end, everything eventually comes down to it whether we should proceed to enjoy something – be it Halloween or any other pleasure – or not.

Sanctifying Halloween

Sanctification doesn’t mean “being separated from the world” only, but more accurately, it means “being separated from the world to be used for God’s purpose.”  And God’s purpose for us in this world is to know Him and make Him known.  We might not be of the world, but still, we are sent into it to be its salt and light.

Halloween isn’t anything different.  It can be sanctified.  The world might be celebrating it in its own imperfect way, but we Christians can use it to declare God’s glory.

Again, Halloween has elements of fun.  And things that are fun and joyful are opportunities to draw an audience to witness to and point them toward the splendor of Christ.

Kids, especially, are the ones that have the most fun during this event, with the candies and treats and costumes and all that.  This fun occasion can be used to teach biblical lessons to them, and make them realize that the reason they can enjoy themselves is because they are under God’s grace, and lead them towards the supreme joy in Christ.

Examples of some practices being done by Halloween-observing Christians (that I’ve read about) are giving out Gospel tracks along with treats to those who go trick-or-tricking on their homes, and having fun “counter-Halloween” parties in their churches wherein kids dress up as biblical characters or famous Christian historical figures.

What is preferable during Halloween, having a fun time and doing some witnessing or being bitter and gloomy and critical about it? 

Halloween Reflects Men’s Fascination and Fear of Death

Though I don’t agree that Halloween celebrates evil, what can’t be denied is it’s the time of year wherein everyone is provoked to think about death.  For centuries – through the various forms that Halloween has taken through history – death is something that humans are both fascinated and fearful about, as they conduct various means – from the ancient Celts’ mask-wearing to Hollywood’s horror films (and moviegoers’ penchant of watching such films, even the terrible ones, making the genre very profitable) – to both distract themselves of its eventuality and reflect on it.

This state of contemplation on death during Halloween is a great opening to share to unbelievers about the truth of eternal death that awaits in Hell and the eternal life that is found in Christ.

I Have Nothing but Respect for Those Who Don’t Celebrate It and Reject It

Nevertheless, if you’re a Christian that isn’t convinced that Halloween is okay, that it’s too uncomfortably dark, and reject it, then good for you.  That’s absolutely fine, too.  As I’ve mentioned before, what’s important is the thought of glorifying God.  Therefore, if your own personal faith and convictions led you to the conclusion that Halloween isn’t pleasing to God, then I really respect that.

In the Christian pursuit of exalting God, we are given the freedom of making choices without fear of condemnation when we pick the wrong choice out of innocent ignorance.  That’s why my advice to anti-Halloween Christians is to be not too quick to harshly rebuke their brethren who celebrate Halloween.  Take into mind that their purpose is the same as yours – glorifying God – and if they are indeed wrong in their means of doing so, like celebrating Halloween, let the Holy Spirit convict them about it.  You can gently share your opinions – preferably, with supporting Scriptures – why you think Halloween doesn’t glorify God, but you don’t have the right to objectively declare it as evil and condemn those who do celebrate it.

Remember who our real enemy is – it’s the Devil, not the kid in the devil costume.  And remember what our life’s main purpose is – it’s declaring the magnificence of Jesus Christ to others, not convincing everyone that Halloween is evil.

Don’t be mean and reprimanding just because someone greets you a “Happy Halloween,” or be sullen and stingy to someone who knocks at your door for some “trick or treat.”

I Actually Don’t Celebrate Halloween

With all my defense of Halloween, I actually don’t celebrate it myself.  For three reasons:
1.) Halloween isn’t deeply ingrained in Filipino traditions.  With all the facets of Halloween that I find interesting, Halloween itself is not something that I believe to be culturally significant and sentimentally important to be celebrated as a Filipino. 
2.) I belong in a Christian community that frowns upon Halloween.  Though I personally believe there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Halloween, I abstain from it to avoid offending or confusing other Christians in my circle.     
3.) Reformation Day fascinates me more.

Reformation Day is a holiday that commemorates the Reformation.  It coincides with the date (October 31, 1517) wherein Martin Luther notably nailed his 95 theses on the church door of Wittenberg, considered by many to be the time the Reformation kicked off.  It’s a terrific supplement to those Christians who celebrates Halloween, and a terrific alternative to those Christians who don’t.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Reformation Day also falls on the date of Halloween.

All Hallows’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve are, after all, the commemoration of the lives of the saints throughout history.  Thus, it’s a perfect time to thank God for using saints like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers, who through their courageous and dedicated labors enabled Christianity to break itself free from the bondage of false doctrines.

Furthermore, “Post tenebras lux” is a Latin phrase that the Reformers had taken as one of their slogans.  It means “light after darkness.”  So, while Halloween has been associated with death and darkness, the Reformation has brought life and light to Christianity, which had been buried in false teachings and corruption for centuries.  It’s a wonderful analogy on what Christ has done for us.  From darkness to light.  From death to life.

Reformation Day dramatically changes the paradigm of Halloween.  So instead of Halloween serving as a reminder of darkness and death, we can now gratefully reflect on Jesus’ words in John 8:12:
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

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