Halloween: A Trick or a Treat?
Young Women’s Sunday School Class
Jacobstown Baptist Church
Jacobstown, New Jersey
All Scripture references are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society used by permission of
Zondervan Bible Publishers
Every year when October rolls around the signs of the approach of Halloween are obvious everywhere; stores begin to carry Halloween candy, Halloween
costumes, Halloween party favors, Halloween greeting cards, Halloween decorations, scary soundtracks and lighting effects, ghoulish make-up, pumpkins, bundled
corn stalks and other paraphernalia. One sees advertisements for “haunted houses”, “haunted hayrides”, and other “haunted” attractions published in newspapers,
posted in store windows, and plastered on signposts at major intersections. Businesses and homeowners begin to decorate for the holiday with skeletons, ghosts and
witches, black cats, bats, fake spider webs, gravemarkers, and jack o’ lanterns. On October 31st millions of children and adults don costumes that range from the
frightening to the fanciful and either take to the streets to go “Trick or treating”, or more recently, to go to a mall or other “safe” place to go “Trick or treating”, or
they go to parties to celebrate the occasion. In some areas of the country October 30th is included in the festival as “Mischief Night”.
Halloween is an American tradition that seems to grow in importance every year, despite cruel incidents in the past. And this celebration is not just observed in the
United States: in Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the Philippines October 31st is Halloween; in England, November 5th is a Halloween-type celebration, Guy
Fawkes Day (ostensibly a commemoration of the British Parliament’s escape from a bombing attempt by revolutionary, Guy Fawkes); in Brigus, Newfoundland,
November 5th is Bonfire Night (a remaking of the British Guy Fawkes Day); and in Mexico November 2nd is “The Festival of the Dead” to remember deceased
family members and friends (in Texas this festival is called “All Soul’s Day”). In Catholic countries, especially those of southern Europe and Latin America, All Saints’
Day (November 1st) and All Soul’s Day (November 2nd) are observed as important religious holidays. Certainly many parts of the world have celebrations that are
intertwined with what we know as “Halloween”, but where did these traditions come from? What is their significance? Are they merely harmless festivals of revelry
and pretense, or is there something more to them?
II. History and Practice
Halloween can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the Bronze Age Celts, an agrarian, tribal society which primarily occupied Ireland, Scotland, Wales,
England, and the Brittany region of northern France, but also dwelled in parts of Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, and Turkey.
They were polytheistic, worshipping a variety of gods of nature, and also their ancestors. Their two greatest religious celebrations were held at the onset of winter
(November 1st, Samhain, pronounced “sow in”) when the herds were brought in to shelter, and at the onset of summer (May 1st, Belthane) when the herds were
released to the pasturelands. November 1st marked two things: the beginning of winter and the New Year, when Saman, the lord of the dead and darkness reigned;
and the end of the season of the sun, which the sun-god, Baal, had ruled. Samhain (November 1st) was a day of dual religious activity; it was the most sacred of all
Celtic festivals, a “festival of the dead”, a communal feast held to appease Saman; and “Taman” a second feast dedicated to pleasing and glorifying Baal. It was also
a day to engage in commerce activities.
On the eve of Samhain (October 31st) the Celts believed that the gates separating the living and the dead were opened allowing evil spirits and the souls of the
previous year’s dead to return to the earth to harm crops and animals, and trouble families by stealing babies. People would dress up as “spirits” to fool wandering
spirits into mistaking them as their own and leave them alone, or to lead the demonic spirits to the edge of town; they would leave gifts of the finest food outside their
homes to appease the evil spirits and to nourish the souls of their departed relatives. It was the night when Saman judged lost souls- sinning souls were sentenced to
12 months of afterlife as a lowly animal, good souls were sentenced to 12 months of afterlife as humans; gifts of food and gifts were given to him to cause him to
allow their deceased ancestors a brief visit. It was also believed to be a time when the spirits could be contacted to foretell the future. The priests of the Celts, the
Druids, were responsible for this communion between the dead and the living. Bonfires were lit outside of towns to draw evil spirits to their warmth and away from
the dwellings of the Celts. Huge bonfires were lit on high hills to renew the sun-god, and on these bonfires sacrifices of crated animals (horses and cats) and humans
(criminals) were made. The Druids divined the future by observing the movements of the entrails of the sacrifices as they died. They continued this rite for centuries.
The Romans conquered Britain just before the birth of Christ, in the first century A.D., and ruled the Celts from the first to the fifth centuries A.D. The Romans
celebrated a harvest festival on November 1st called the Festival of Pomona or Feralia. Pomona, or Pomorum, was originally regarded as the goddess of orchards
and harvest who fell in love with Vertumnus, the “god of the turning year” (or seasons); and together they held sway over the harvest. Her celebration featured feasts
of apples, nuts, grapes and other orchard fruit. People laid out apples and nuts for Pomona to thank her for a bountiful harvest. There were games and races and a
time of thanksgiving and joy on that day. Over time the practices of Samhain merged with those of the Festival of Pomona. Apples and nuts and romance became
part of Halloween customs along with the original concept of a night devoted to the dead with ghoulish parades, divination, fire and spirit magic.
Christianity spread across the Roman Empire from the first through the fourth centuries A.D. but it did not fully eradicate longstanding pagan practices. The Emperor
Constantine, who ruled from A.D. 306-337, officially declared Christianity to be the religion of the empire in A.D. 313; this caused thousands of pagans to became
“instant Christians” through water baptism without true conversion and renunciation of their old ways. Pagans began to be instructed in Christian truth but a
synchronism of religious thought was the only result pagan worship would not be eradicated. Samhain remained a primary pagan festival. Though Catholicism
came to Britain through Saint Patrick and others in A.D. 300-400, the old Samhain traditions continued, especially in Ireland, and especially by the children. These
would act out the Samhain appeasement of evil spirits by dressing-up as “spirits” and going house to house demanding a “treat”; if they were refused they would
perform a “trick” of punishment.
The Catholic Church, faced with such a situation, set about to assimilate pagan rites into the Church using a version of the “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” philosophy.
In A.D. 601 Pope Gregory I decreed that pagan temples should no longer be destroyed but be converted to places to worship God and that pagan celebrations
should be supplanted by religious festivals to God. Pope Boniface IV created “All Saint’s Day” on May 13th, A.D. 610 as a memorial to St. Mary and the Martyrs
who died for their faith without official recognition. In the eighth century Pope Gregory III moved this festival to November 1st to honor the saints of St. Peter’s
Church, intentionally coinciding with Samhain. In A.D. 835, Pope Gregory IV extended this festival to include all saints so that it could be universally observed as
“All Saint’s Day” or “All Hallows” (or All Hallow’s Day). Sundown on the eve before All Saint’s Day (October 31st) marked the beginning of the celebration, called
the Eve of All Saints, the Eve of All Hallows, or Hallow Even–this is where the name Hallowe’en comes from. It was celebrated much as it always had been: it was
regarded as a night of the wandering dead, and a time to leave food and drink for costumed revelers and to light bonfires. Later, in the ninth century, in an attempt to
satisfy the pagan desires of Samhain, November 2nd was set aside by Amalarius to be “All Soul’s Day” to honor the faithful dead; in A.D. 993 St. Odilo of Cluny
requested that it become an official Church festival; and around 1,000 A.D. the feast day was approved by Pope Sylvester II.
The Church earnestly endeavored to transform Samhain. On All Saint’s Day the people were encouraged to remember the dead with prayers instead of with
sacrifices, and to bake “soul cakes” and go house to house to give to those who would agree to pray for the departed. Villagers were also allowed to masquerade
on this day as Christian Saints. Throughout Europe and Britain churches displayed religious relics of patron saints or, in poor locales, held processions of costumed
parishioners (dressed as saints, angels, and demons, which satisfied the pagan practice of parading ghouls to the edge of town).
The great bonfires, which had originally been to honor the sun-god of Samhain, were now said to be great torches to keep the devil away; the wild and powerful
spirits of that festival were now labeled as evil; the gods and goddesses of paganism were said to be demonic deceptions; and the malevolent spiritual force behind
all idolatry was identified as Satan. But the Catholic Church’s attempt to change Halloween failed. Instead of eliminating a pagan holiday it sanctioned and
perpetuated it; instead of ridding Europe of superstition and idolatry it added to it with representations of ghosts and human skeletons, the devil, witches, black cats
and other evil forces which were then blended with the other symbols of the festival of the dead.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his doctrine of spiritual truths on the door of the Wittenberg, Germany, church he pastored. Thus began the Protestant
Reformation. As Europeans grasped the truth that man can have a personal relationship with the loving, true God through faith alone, many of the practices of
Catholicism, including saint’s days were abandoned. Without All Saint’s Day there could be no All Hallows’ Eve. But Halloween did not completely die; it was still
observed in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and some parts of western and northern England. However, it reemerged among the Protestant English on November 5th,
1606, as Guy Fawkes Day. This holiday was instituted as a celebration of the triumph of Protestantism over Catholicism in England on the anniversary of a foiled
gunpowder plot which was to have blown up the predominantly Protestant House of Lords. The bomber, a fanatical Catholic named Guy Fawkes, was
apprehended when he entered the building to set off his bomb, and was later executed. Guy Fawkes Day was marked by great bonfires and the burning of effigies of
Guy Fawkes, fireworks, masquerades, and the carrying of hollowed out and carved turnip lanterns. The eve of Guy Fawkes Day became known as “Mischief
Night” when pranks were played.
In Europe three types of Halloween celebrations existed at the time of the original colonization of America: the pagan Samhain, the Catholic half-pagan half-Christian
All Hallows Eve and the secular Guy Fawkes Day of Protestant England; all three were carried to America by immigrants. By the time the former American colonies
took their first census in 1790 there were 3,637,900 Europeans in America. The seeds of Halloween were planted in Virginia where the Anglican Church, which
observed “All Saint’s Day”, observed Hallowmas as a boisterous festival of harvest, romance, spiritism and commerce. In Massachusetts, New York, and New
Hampshire Guy Fawkes Day was enthusiastically observed, but Halloween was regarded as a pagan celebration of the spirit world. Maryland, North Carolina,
South Carolina and Georgia celebrated Hallowmas, with Georgia (which comprised much of the South) being influenced by the superstitions of African black
voodoo and English folktales from the settlers. By the early 1800s Halloween rituals could be found across America in the form of autumn play parties and private
superstitions among the people. But the birth of modern American Halloween observances can be traced to the mass immigrations of Irish Catholics who were
fleeing the potato famines of 1820 and 1846. These people spread westward across America seeking work as miners, mill workers, railroad construction hands,
and domestic servants. Everywhere they traveled they spread their blend of Irish Halloween customs (which stemmed from the Celtic Samhain and the Catholic All
Hallows). The Irish reinforced the latent American Halloween traditions of the early settlers, of the superstitions of blacks and the American Indians, and added
many more–costumes, trick or treating, carved pumpkin jack o’ lanterns, bonfires, divination and witchcraft, and pranks against for those who were objectionable in
Upper and Middle class Victorian America (1880s) believed that Halloween was a holiday brought to America by the genteel of England. They publicized it as such
in children’s and ladies’ periodicals and as a holiday concerned with entertainments and games (not as a celebration of the dead or dealing with witchcraft), which
had its origins in Scotland or England, not Ireland. Halloween’s original focus, communing with the dead, was not mentioned; instead, romantic fortune telling was the
emphasis of Victorian Halloween fun. Divination, ghost stories, parlor games (such as bobbing for apples, jumping over candle sticks and the like) and matchmaking
were the Halloween pastimes intended for Victorian adults, not children. But in the early twentieth century a “harmless” celebration of Halloween became the domain
of children, consisting of games such as scavenger hunts, races, ball games, games of skill, musical chairs, wheel of fortune games or a fortune-telling booth.
However, among the lower classes Halloween underwent no such sanitizing.
Today we can see the dual nature of Halloween: among most children and adults it is still regarded as innocent, though mysterious, fun. Sales of costumes, masks
and other Halloween “stuff” is at an all-time high. There has recently been a strong resurgence of interest in Halloween among adults, who see it as an opportunity to
dress in costume and become childlike and carefree for one day in the year. And while the symbols of the dead are a puzzlement to these revelers they embrace the
sanitized traditions associated with the holiday. But Halloween’s original purpose is also observed by Satanic cults, witch covens and Neo-pagans. Witches regard it
as one of the eight great festivals of paganism, and witches and Satanists hold that Halloween is the most powerful day of the year on which to cast a spell. The Back
Mass of Satanic worship is held on October 31st. On Halloween most practitioners of witchcraft engage in the “drawing down the moon” ceremony in which the
chief witch of the coven becomes a “channel” (actually becomes possessed) of the moon goddess. The participants of the ceremony, both men and women, are
“sky-clad”, meaning, naked.
Ancient Druid sites like Stonehenge are the location of occult gatherings. On Halloween animal sacrifices are openly offered in semi-pagan parts of the world like the
Philippines and South America, and there is evidence that Neo-pagans in America are increasingly embracing the old ways; animal and, it is said, human sacrifices
are made by Satanic and voodoo groups on Halloween. Fires, a symbol of pagan Halloween, are at an all-time high on Halloween in America.
III. It’s Popularity
Death is a universal truth and, generally speaking, all ancient peoples employed festivals that emphasized death and the supernatural. The Bible states that God has
placed eternity in the hearts of men (ECC 3:11) so that they will long for the answers about death, life and the after-life. God revealed Himself in creation: ROM
1:20 says, “God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” The Celts
understood that supernatural power controlled creation. They wanted to have some sort of control over that power (this is the original temptation, “you shall be like
God”(GEN 3:5). They were greatly concerned with death and darkness because they lived mostly in northern Europe where the winters were as long as six months
and dark. They called winter the season of death. They wanted to be able to influence the gods of nature, primarily Saman and Baal, to be benevolent towards men,
they wanted to control death, and they wanted to know the future; their religion taught them that they could if the right sacrifices were made. Conversely, if they
failed to do what was required they would bring upon themselves the capricious malevolence of these gods. As uncertain as it might have been the people found
security in this system based upon their own endeavors. But the Scriptures are clear that they were deceived; “The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of
unbelievers” (2CO 4:4), “for although they knew God [through creation], they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile
and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look
like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (ROM 1:21-23).
Even the fact that they worshiped Baal, a Syro-Phoenician god from Canaan, God’s “chosen land”, shows that they had access to the truth of the Scriptures but had
not wanted God. Because they rejected the truth God “gave them up” (ROM 1) to be “slaves to those who by nature are not gods” (GAL 4:8), the demons. The
festival of Samhain was a culmination of man’s desire for power over creation, of fear, demonic teachings and witchcraft. It combined potent pagan elements–the
promise of control over circumstances and death; the power to read the future; a time of feasting, worship, and communal gathering; the excitement of bonfires,
sacrifices, and masquerading; and Satanic power, which made Samhain attractive then and makes Halloween popular today for those who do not know God or His
power and providence.
Today’s extreme Halloween popularity has been partly fueled by retailers. They call it America’s “second-biggest consumptive holiday, right behind Christmas”,
orchestrated by modern marketing. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, who quotes Ad Age, this Halloween will account for $170 million in advertising for
products as diverse as McDonald’s, Coors, FTD, Oreos, greeting cards, make-up, costumes, masks and decorations. It’s one of the three or four biggest snack
food days of the year with product manufacturers packaging special versions of their products (like orange filled Oreos) especially for Halloween.
Halloween is the third biggest party of the year, preceded only by Super Bowl Sunday, and New Year’s Day. Approximately $800 million worth of candy will be
purchased this year (1996) for Halloween. It’s the single biggest day for costume sales, the 2nd biggest for party paper goods and plastic accessories and for home
decorating. The magazine, Selling Halloween, boasts that marketing has been, “taking a season that really didn’t have a lot of product, and creating lines of product
that will get the consumer into the store”. Halloween has become big business and will continue to be promoted without any moral considerations for as long as
consumers will buy.
Ultimately, though, Halloween remains popular because of only one reason–it is the date when Satan receives glory from a vast horde of mankind, knowingly or
unknowingly. The Bible says that there is only one true God, Yahweh, also known as Jehovah (ISA 45:5,6), and that any worship not given to God is given to
demons (1Co 10:20). The Scriptures also teach that the desire to be exalted, “to be like God” was what caused the leader of the demons, Satan, to be cast out of
heaven (ISA 14:14). Worship is what Satan tried to tempt Jesus Christ to give him while Jesus wandered for 40 days in the Judean desert after His baptism (MAT
4:9; LUK 4:7). Prophecy indicates that until the very end of time he will still be working to deceive mankind into worshipping him (REV 13:4). At that time there will
be great demonic activity, and sorcery among mankind (REV 9:21). The revival of the black arts and witchcraft seem to indicate that we are reaching the end times.
If that is so, Satan will fight even harder to win mankind for himself before the end.
We can expect to see the fascination with the occult, sorcery, witchcraft and other Satanic activities continue to gain popularity. Halloween, that ancient occultic holy
day, will grow ever more important until it eclipses every other holiday, including Christmas, as Satan seeks to exalt himself on this earth.
IV. A Christian Response to Halloween
A. Do not observe it
If you participate in Halloween you become a part of a pagan celebration. The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote, in 1CO 10:20 “… the
sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.” Halloween originated as a pagan worship festival.
The basic elements of spiritism and witchcraft have remained the same throughout it’s history. Paul went on to say, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the
cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons” (1CO 10:21). Christians belong to God and partake of God; they are
holy unto God. To involve themselves in Halloween or any other pagan worship is to partake of idolatry. Again Paul wrote in Ephesians, “Have nothing to do with
the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (EPH 5:11). He could not have used stronger language: have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness. We
are not to celebrate with idolaters and demon worshipers: we are to let the light of God’s holiness shine on such practices and expose them for what they are.
Some may say that Halloween is OK because the pagan elements have been taken out of it. To that a reply may be made that paganism has not been taken out of it:
our Halloween is very similar to the original. All of the original symbols of Samhain, Pomona, and the Middle Ages are still employed in our Halloween celebration. It
is still listed as one of witchcraft’s great festivals. It is still the night on which the Satanic Black Mass is held and sacrifices are made. Witches still practice black and
the co-called white magic on this night (God recognizes all magic as evil). In Deuteronomy God said, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or
daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the
dead” (DEU 18:10,11); yet, Halloween was and is an instrument of mediums and witches. But there is more to this issue than just the celebration itself. Jesus said,
speaking to those who opposed God, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning,
not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (JOH 8:44). Paul wrote in EPH
6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual
forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Not only is Halloween pagan, it is a vehicle that exalts the spiritual forces of evil. We must not allow ourselves to be tricked
into honoring these evil forces in any way.
Christians may argue that Paul said “everything is permissible” for a Christian (1CO 10:23). They may quote Paul from 1Corinthians 8:4 when he said, “So then,
about eating food sacrificed to idols: ‘We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one,’ ” meaning that they can participate in
Halloween because the idolatrous overtones are meaningless. But God judged King Solomon as an idolater for building temples for his pagan, foreign wives and for
entering the temples with them. Scripture says that they turned his heart away from the Living God. As a result paganism spread throughout Israel and the kingdom
was torn from his family’s hands in his son, Rehaboam’s rule. Our God is a jealous God. In Exodus 20:5 He said, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God,
punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Perhaps we need to be reminded that what seems innocent
to us may be an abomination to God, and that He will not tolerate any form of idolatry from His children. Paul continued in 1CO 10:22, “Are we trying to arouse the
Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” God will judge us if we wantonly provoke His jealousy.
Paul went on to say in 1CO 10:23 that while, “Everything is permissible” in the ultimate sense, but “not everything is constructive.” The book of Hebrews says that
there are things that hinder our Christian growth: HEB 12:1 “Therefore… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run
with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Observing this pagan festival does not enhance our relationship to God, it can entangle us in sorcery and witchcraft. Even if there was no basis for saying that
Halloween is pagan, the principles of PHI 4:8 preclude our participation. Paul wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” What is noble about going door to
door begging candy? What is praiseworthy about masquerading as ghosts, goblins, witches or even innocuous fantasy figures? And how does Halloween reflect
what is true, admirable or excellent?
Some Christians say that they don’t believe in celebrating Halloween but that they use it as an opportunity to hand out gospel pamphlets and tracts, along with candy,
to trick or treaters. But when we hand out candy aren’t we really participating in Halloween?
They argue that without the candy treat the gospel tracts would not be acceptable; but the answer to that can be found in MAT 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is
sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” Children and adults are looking for
treats on Halloween, not tracts. Most of the tracts are merely thrown away without being read at all because Halloween is not a night of true spiritual thirst. Not only
may they be wasted, but when we push spiritual truth on those who don’t want it, we may subject the good news about Jesus Christ to ridicule and mockery. Why
not save our precious truth for a more appropriate time when people are truly receptive?
B. Find an Alternative
As Christians we have options that we can exercise about Halloween. We don’t have to do what the rest of the world does.
1. Celebrate a festival on another day, such as a harvest festival in November.
2. Hold a Bible study on the occult and Halloween witchcraft.
3. Hold a prayer or praise meeting on Halloween.
4. Go somewhere that doesn’t involve Halloween celebrations.
“A Christian Perspective on Halloween”, CBN, 977 Centerville Turnpike,
Virginia Beach, VA 23463-0001
“Big Night”, by Patricia McLaughlin, The Philadelphia Inquirer,
October 27, 1996
Drawing Down the Moon, by Margot Adler, Beacon Press, 1979
Halloween, A Holiday Book, by Lillie Patterson, Garrard Pub., 1963
Halloween, an American Holiday, an American History, by Lesley Pratt
Bannatyne, Facts on File, New York, 1990
Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life, by Jack Santino, The
University of Tennessee Press/Knoxville, 1994
“Halloween: Festival of the Dead”, by Bill Uselton, The Gospel Truth,
A Publication of Southwest Radio Church, 1991
“The Celts”, by Karl Raimund and T.G.E. Powell, Celtic Home page, www
Witches, Pumpkins and Grinning Ghosts, the Story of Halloween Symbols,
by Edna Barth, Seabury Press, New York, 1972
Bible Bulletin Board
PO Box 314
Columbus, NJ 08022
….online since 1986