I never know quite what to do with Halloween. On one hand, my children perceive Halloween largely as an evening of harmless fun, giving them the opportunity to dress up like a giraffe or an airplane pilot and wander the neighborhood looking for candy. (And what child doesn’t like candy?) The holiday also offers a rare opportunity to interact with neighbors whose doors stand wide open, ready to receive guests if only for a moment.
But Halloween also has its problems. First of all, its pagan connections and obsession with darkness and death are troubling for a Christian. Furthermore, the idea of “trick-or-treating” implies a threat (though admittedly not carried through) if a treat is not given as demanded. Finally, though most costumes appear cute and harmless, I’ve been greeted at my door by some children whose disguise can only be described as inappropriate.
So how do we evaluate Halloween as Christians? First of all, we need to recognize that anything that would lead us away from Christ and towards pagan superstition or immoral behavior is spiritually unhealthy and should be avoided. This does not mean that we need to fear everything about Halloween. As one author puts it, “Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year…. The real threat on Halloween is from the social problems that attend sinful behavior—drunk driving, pranksters and vandals, and unsupervised children.”
Second, we can recognize that God has given his people a certain measure of freedom in disputable areas. The apostle Paul discusses this “freedom” from judgment by “another’s conscience” in several places (I Cor. 10:29; see also Rom. 14:1-4, I Cor. 8:4-8, Gal. 5:1). Can Christ be glorified by having me meet my neighbors, or in passing out free candy to those who stop by? If I believe this, then I should embrace these opportunities given by Halloween! On the other hand, if the celebration of Halloween genuinely seems to lead your family in a spiritually unhelpful direction, then don’t let other Christians make you feel guilty for not participating.
Third, and perhaps most important, whatever you decide, communicate this clearly to your children. As Kim Wier points out, “Inviting your children to observe how you have thoughtfully made your choices on an issue the Bible isn't extremely clear about can help them realize that godly individuals — including other families — must decide for themselves what God wants them to do.” Explaining your rationale for where you draw lines in the celebration of Halloween teaches our children to be discerning in the exercise of Christian freedom (see Gal. 5:14, I Pet. 2:16). Teach your kids to spot and avoid the ugly side of Halloween, while being open to the opportunities it may bring to share the message of God’s grace in a dark world.
Over the years, I’ve found my opinions changing a bit on the celebration of Halloween. For a time, my wife and I had our kids hand out candy without going trick-or-treating. We had some great opportunities to talk with them about the “demand” side of Halloween, and how often it creeps into the rest of our lives. We also got to teach them, in a very practical way, how to give to our neighbors without receiving. More recently, we’ve consented to let them dress up and go door-to-door as a way of getting to know our neighbors.
But in both cases, we have tried our best to teach them that following Christ is more about giving than receiving (Acts 20:35), and that the greatest opportunity of interaction with our neighbors is that of being a witness to the living Jesus who triumphed over the death and darkness which are too often the focus of our cultural celebrations.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster