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Samhain, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, All Hallows Eve, Day of the Dead

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''Halloween'' is a contracted form of ''Holy Evening'' and refers to the evening of All Saints Day (November 1), when Christians traditionally remember believers of other times who are especially good role models of faith; many of whom were persecuted, tortured, and/or died rather than renounce Christ.

Although marked a special day to honor believers of the past, there was no consistency in the dating of All Saints Day until Christianity began to flourish in northern Europe and the British Isles. There Christians found well-entrenched pagan harvest/winter festivals. One of the best known was called Samhain. They determined that All Saints Day should be celebrated at the same time to directly challenge the sentiments of pagan festivals of the season, including Samhain.

These harvest/end of the year holidays generally celebrated the end of the harvest, the beginning of winter, and death. Just as crops live and then die, just as the sun rules for a long time and then ''dies'' until it shines for only a short time during the day, so all humans and animals eventually die. One of the common pagan beliefs was that the spirits of those who died during the previous year could not go to their ''final resting place'' until they were properly prepared with possessions, wealth, food, and drink (either for themselves or to pay the god who ruled the next world). Until then, their spirits wandered where they had lived and died. A common pagan tradition was to placate the spirits and send them off on a one-way trip to the nether world by ''treating'' them. If a spirit was not ''treated'' well, it would ''trick,'' or haunt, those who had neglected preparing it for leaving this world.

As northern Europe and the British Isles became Christianized, the Church saw that the pagan festivals still lured Christians to compromise their faith. Consequently, the Church in those areas designated October 31 and November 1 as the "Holy Evening" and Holy Day of All Saints Day. The Church not only sought to give Christians an alternative, spiritually edifying holiday; but also to proclaim the supremacy of the gospel over pagan superstition. There was no need to ''placate'' the spirits, or buy their way into the afterlife — eternal life is offered to all who believe in the atonement of Jesus Christ, who shed his blood to reconcile us to God and bring us eternal life. Rather than fearing the ''tricks'' of those who have died, Christians reflected on the lives and deaths of those who were faithful and used them as role models for their own walks with the Lord; and thanked God for preserving the saints in the midst of suffering and persecution.

Halloween didn't become an American holiday until the immigration of the working classes from the British Isles in the late nineteenth century. The mischievous aspects of the holiday attracted many American young people, who borrowed or adapted many customs without reference to their pagan origins.

Christians should evaluate Halloween and determine an appropriate response for themselves and their own families. Christians should refrain from any participation that would compromise one's faith or bring dishonor to the Lord Jesus Christ. A good principle is to look for ways to become a positive, Christ-honoring voice in the midst of secularism and paganism. Each Christian must be persuaded in his own conscience about how he approaches Halloween.

Some Christians decide to have absolutely no contact with Halloween. They have the legally protected right to keep their public school children from participating in any potentially spiritually compromising activity, such as listening to ghost stories, or coloring pictures of witches.

Some Christians decide to have a limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. Sometimes their activities can be creative and help to promote the gospel.

Some Christians decide to ''overcome'' the pagan and secular trappings of Halloween in a manner similar to the way the Church ''overcame'' pagan festivals with All Saints Day. Many churches have ''Harvest Festivals,'' where children may dress as farm animals or farmers. Others host ''Reformation Festivals,'' where children may dress as their favorite Bible character or as a figure from church history. Some churches sponsor ''Hell Houses'' for older children and teenagers where the gospel is preached as the way to avoid the horrors of eternal punishment.
What about Halloween? by Bob and Gretchen Passantino.
Because of its Occult history and symbolism, many informed Christians avoid any activity that would appear to support, promote or celebrate Halloween. Other Christians attempt to minimize the glorification of Halloween's Occult roots by refusing to directly participate in costuming or activities where witchcraft, Satan, or demonic themes are prevalent. They feel that participation in Halloween and even trick-or-treating is acceptable if alternative costumes and themes are substituted or gospel tracts are given at the door. There is not total agreement among believers and churches concerning appropriate Christian responses to this pagan holiday. Knowledgeable Christians; at the very least they will certainly want to avoid Halloween's more obvious glamorization of the Occult. The Bible is replete with warnings and examples of involvement with the Occult. Occult practices are an abomination to the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) and Witchcraft was a crime punishable by death in the Old Testament (Exodus 22:18). The New Testament gives several examples of proper Christian response to the Occult (Acts 19:19; 2 Corinthians 6:14).

Many Christian parents and churches provide alternatives such as Harvest Celebrations and ''Holy-ween'' evangelistic youth rallies. Some churches provide prayer meetings on October 31st to stand against the rise of crime and illegal activities that often correspond on this night. Christians can also pray for the salvation of the many Satanists, Neo-pagans and Witches who are celebrating this day as an important religious holiday. Some Christians have also taken steps to remove the celebration of Halloween from public schools. Christian holidays that celebrate the birth of Christ or His resurrection have been discontinued from practically every public school system. Only Halloween with its themes of the Occult, Satan, and witchcraft (often recognized by the IRS as non-profit religious organizations) is allowed in most public school districts.
The Bible is a book full of enigma, mystery, parables and symbols. The Christian has every right to plumb the richness of imagination and creatures of imagination. Let's not disappoint our children with a shallow or negative response to Halloween. Let us instead celebrate one rooted in the great traditions already pioneered for us.

In his book Celebration of Discipline (Harper and Row, 1978) Richard Foster says, ''Why allow Halloween to be a pagan holiday in commemoration of the powers of darkness? Fill the house or church with light; sing and celebrate the victory of Christ over darkness.''
Is Halloween a Witches' Brew? Christianity Today, Oct. 22, 1982

- Articles -
Christian Don't Just Pitch the Pumpkins ''A former public school teacher gives advice for parents and teachers on steering clear of Halloween's potential problems.'' By Focus on the Family
Christian Halloween - Harmless Fun or Pagan Rituals? by Watchman Fellowship
Christian Hallowing Halloween ''Why Christians should embrace the "devilish" holiday with gusto—and laughter.'' Christianity Today, Oct. 2, 2000
Christian Five Fun Halloween Alternatives Christian Parenting Today, Sep/Oct. 2001
Christian Is Halloween a Witches' Brew? Online reprint of a Christianity Today article from Oct. 22, 1982
Christian Halloween: What's a Christian to Do? ''Christians have many options in keeping Halloween truly hallow.'' By Focus on the Family
Non-Christian The Real Origins of Halloween Article from a Neo-Pagan perspective. A somewhat angry response to the way some Christians have misrepresented Paganism and Witchcraft
Non-Christian Samhain The Witches' Voice, the leading Neo-Pagan Internet site, has a collection of articles about ''Samhain'' - one of the eight Pagan holidays.
Christian Samhain: History of Halloween by Watchman Fellowship
Christian Welcome to Hell A Focus on the Family article on the so-called ''Hell Houses'' - Halloween alternatives some churches organize.
Christian What about Halloween? by Bob and Gretchen Passantino. Looks at the origin of, and Christian responses to, Halloween.
Christian Why I Let My Kids Go Trick-or-Treating Today's Christian Woman, Sep/Oct. 1999
Non-Christian You call it Hallowe'en... We call it Samhain A Neo-Pagan perspective, hosted at the Witches' Voice site.


Christian Halloween: Are You For Real? by Harold Myra, President of Christianity Today, Inc.
Christian Halloween: What's A Christian To Do? by Steve Russo
Christian The Un-Halloween Book ''A Complete Fall Festival For Children's Ministry.''

- Multimedia -
Christian Halloween Questions and Answers (RealPlayer) An 30-minuted audio presentation by the American Tract Society


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- See Also -
» Are Christian Allowed To...? How to handle grey issues.


Christian Halloween: A Christian Perspective at Peggie's Place Collection of articles and site links on the subject of Halloween.
Christian Halloween Outreach A Christian alternative: ''Evangelize your neighborhood this Halloween: It's as simple as turning your light on!''
Christian October 31st Christian resources from the American Tract Society

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First posted: Oct. 14, 2001
Last Updated: Nov. 1, 2001
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