Halloween is a confusing mess in terms of origins. Claims that it has pagan origins or is a Satanic holiday are false. “Halloween” comes from the eve of all Hallows Day (or All Saint’s Day), which is November 1st although it was originally celebrated in May. And though it occurs at a time of seasonal change called by some “Samhain” (the Celtic name for October 31, pronounced ‘sow-ain’), Halloween and Samhain have nothing in common and are not related.
There are really 4 Halloweens:
- The Halloween that is the evening before All Saints Day (originally observed in May)
- The Halloween that is the commercial holiday that came about in the 20th century
- The Halloween that is actually not Halloween at all but is observed on Oct. 31st as a pagan celebration
- The popular cultural Halloween as it is today, which some relate to horror movies, scary decorations, and scary (in some cases) costumes, haunted houses, etc. that evolved out of the commercial holiday
One could also add a fifth to that list, that Oct. 31 is Reformation Day, when Martin Luther in 1517 nailed his 95 theses to a church door claiming that the Bible is the authority for faith and salvation is by faith alone, which launched the Reformation.
What we see in the United States and some European countries is the commercial day of no. 2 above. There are a lot of folklore tales and legends about some of the practices on Halloween, but no historical evidence to back those up. I first believed all the tales about Halloween when I was a new Christian. However, as I researched and read more, I realized that that these tales had no historical evidence (the same thing happened with Easter and Christmas). Christians should always want facts and reject the myths since the very nature of God is Truth, and Jesus said that he is Truth (John 14:6).
Although some may choose to celebrate the darker side of what they consider Halloween to be, such as scary images; costumes of witches, ghosts, devils; horror movies; or other spooky material, one can choose not to do so.
Handing out candy, trick or treating, and carving pumpkins are not pagan activities. No matter what the tales are that supposedly give pagan origins to these — and there is little evidence for those — doing them is not a spiritual activity but a cultural and commercial one.
The Pagan Issue
October 31 (my birthday) is one of the eight sacred or special days of celebration for many in the Pagan community. However, there is no evidence that any group uses this day as a day of sacrificing animals or people, and Christians therefore should not assume this nor believe wild stories about such practices, nor should Christians especially, of all people, spread such stories. Christians need to remember the commandment about not bearing false witness.
There are also mystical views of October 31 beyond the pagan community such as October 31st as the time of year when the “veil” between this world and the next is thinnest, or it is a time when spirits roam, or other such mythical (and foolish) ideas. These should be rejected as merely part of false views that proliferate in the culture.
Pagan holidays today are connected to the Pagans’ reverence for nature and the seasonal changes; sometimes these beliefs incorporate and celebrate the stories of various pagan gods. But Neo-Paganism today is recent and there is is no historical data to back up many of the claims made by Pagans for their supposed ancient origins.
And no matter what beliefs people hold, as Christians we are called on to respect all people because all men have been created in the image of God. This can be done without affirming the pagan celebrations or their view of nature and pagan gods. Most early Christians and New Testament authors were immersed in a pagan culture to a much larger degree than Christians in the West are today, and they were surrounded by worship of pagan gods and pagan practices, but they did not focus on that. Although they denounced worship of false gods, they did this as part of sharing the news of Jesus Christ and the gospel of his death and resurrection.
Christians should not buy into rumors that witches or Satanists are killing people or sacrificing them on this day. Christians should consider Halloween an opportunity to pray for those in the occult, that they would come to know the love and grace of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins through trusting Christ as the Savior who shed His blood on the cross for them. This is the message those who do not know Christ need to hear. This message is obscured or discredited if false statements are spread by the same people who try to share Christ.
As for trick-or-treating, that is up to parents. Certainly, one hopes that Christians would not let their child dress up as a witch, demon, devil, ghost, or other figure that belongs to the world of death or the occult.
A Christian Response
Churches can offer alternative celebrations, and invite the area children to play games, have treats, and hear Bible stories. Christians can include tracts with the candy they give out. This is making use of the day for a godly purpose.
Jesus read in the Temple these words from Isaiah 61:
“‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'” (Luke 4:18-21; Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy).
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14).
What really matters is how Halloween is viewed in the culture today and how it is observed. Although October 31st happens to also be a pagan holiday, this does not mean the day is inherently evil because a day cannot be evil. Every day is a gift from the Lord:
“This is the day the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24
There are different accounts of the origins of Halloween, most of which are untrue. Again, origins do not matter as much as how it is celebrated now.
Those who choose not to participate in Halloween, if their reasons are based on facts and not myths, should follow that desire. Those who are okay with Halloween should follow their choice. And no one should be criticized for those choices or denounce those who make a choice that differs from their own.
What matters more than the one day of Halloween is the ongoing promotion throughout the year of the occult in books, movies, TV shows, websites, and video games. So why focus so much on one day?
** For a good resource on the origins and development of Halloween, see this Oct. 23, 2023 article by Steven Wedgeworth, “Halloween Revisited.”