Navigating a fallen culture is no easy task. We are pilgrims and sojourners in this life, and we are called to be “in the world, yet not of the world,” just as Christ was. We are sent, just as He was sent. And at the same time, Christ also enjoyed many earthly blessings that He, while in heaven before His incarnation, had no need of. Things like the enjoyment of food, singing songs with friends, sleep, and going to parties.
So how do we enjoy life while being missionaries? This will look a bit different for everyone, for a number of reasons, but a great starting point is that when it comes to culture, a good rule of thumb to use is the idea of “Receive, Reject, or Redeem.”
There are many things in our Christian life we can freely receive: cars, homes, marriage, guitars, friendships, computers, etc. They are the “no-brainers” of life that we know we can freely enjoy. There are other things that we know we should reject: pornography, drunkenness, greed, laziness, etc.
So receive and reject are pretty clear cut, but what about the “gray areas”? Things like movies, music, holidays, hobbies, alcohol, etc. are all technically neutral, but they can go either way in dishonoring or honoring God. A good question we can ask ourselves is, can it be redeemed? Using Hallowe’en as an example, I’d like to give you a few ways you can enjoy Hallowe’en, and even use it for a specific purpose to the glory of God. Even if you choose not to celebrate Hallowe’en, these are all really good things to be aware of as you engage your friends and family this Hallowe’en as a means to sharing the Gospel in a loving and non-judgmental way.
1). Enjoy it as a Day of Thanksgiving
History: The background of Hallowe’en is very mixed with Christian, secular, and pagan roots, much like Christmas and Easter. Originally, going back at least to 270 A.D. or maybe earlier, it was an Irish celebration called “Samhain” (pronounced “sow-in” (“sow” being pronounced like “cow”)), which, generally translated means “summer’s end assembly,” or “harvest festival.”
Back then, without the luxury of modern indoor heating, winter was a very treacherous, fearful time for people. When winter would hit, people in these ancient villages would wonder who would not make it out of winter alive. In that day, November 1 was considered the unofficial start of winter, and so these Celts would gather food from the summer and autumn harvest and get together the night before, on October 31st, for a large party and what really was the original “Thanksgiving” before we had our modern North American holiday.
These friends and family would enjoy food from the harvest, giving thanks and hoping that they would all make it through the winter. What began then, also, was a tradition to dress up like your ancestors who had passed away before you. It was a tribute to them, being thankful for their legacy, and acknowledging that if the encroaching winter takes your life, you will be with your ancestors again.
- For us today: Every Hallowe’en, when the fake cobwebs and headstones start popping up in yards, I always take time to reflect on the reality of death, the reality of hell, and the reality of the shortness of life. The front yard décor reminds me that winter is coming and death is knocking on the door. For me it’s a very reflective time on all the great blessings God has given me in this short life I have lived so far, and I remember that “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” I treat Hallowe’en as a time of thanksgiving. I take this time of the year to be more intentional with my kids, talking about life and death and eternity, as well as all the things we have to be thankful for, starting with our salvation. I remind them that though most in our neighborhood don’t believe in Jesus, everyone believes in death, and so we can be praying to be used to share the truth of Christ with people who know that death is real. Rather than mock them or look down on them for “practicing such a dark holiday,” we pray for compassion and opportunity.
2). Know Some of the Christian History
History: The church had their day to commemorate and remember previously departed saints called “All Saints’ Day,” which was introduced in 609 A.D. But because the culture was already celebrating Samhain which celebrated their current life with the feast of the harvest, as well as simultaneously celebrating and remembering their previous ancestors, Pope Gregory IV decided to move All Saints’ Day in 835 A.D. from May 13th to coincide with what was already going on in culture during Samhain on November 1st.
In modern times, to get away from the darker side of Hallowe’en, Christians have adopted other names, primarily “harvest festival,” “fall festival,” and I’ve even seen “Jesusween” (sadly, I’m not kidding). Ironically, “harvest festival” (Samhain) was the original secular name for this community party, and it was actually the church that renamed the celebrations of October 31st as “All Hollows’ Evening,” which means “All Holys’ Evening.” This was eventually shortened to “Hallowe’en” by 1745. Hallowe’en was simply “All Hollows’ Eve,” celebrated the evening before, like our Christmas Eve.
- For us today: Every Hallowe’en, I take time teaching my kids two specific things. First, I take some time in the weeks leading up to Hallowe’en to engage them in conversation about our relatives of the past, both the good and the bad. I tell them about their Great x 5 Grandpa who planted a church in the early 1800’s, but yet I also tell them about a Great x 3 uncle who did some really bad things (a murder-suicide…I don’t tell them those details, however, still a bit young). I use this as an opportunity to teach about God’s grace and mercy on our sinful family line. Secondly, I teach them about men and women of the faith that have come before us. I love telling them about our spiritual heritage, the people who paved the way as martyrs, evangelists, and theologians, that have given us so much over the past 2,000 years. I teach them about St. Patrick, the Apostle Paul, Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, and in particular, the men of the Reformation, which brings me to my next point.
3.) Incorporate the Reformation
History: In the early 1500’s, an Augustinian Catholic monk named Martin Luther was getting fed up with what he had increasingly been seeing as a misrepresentation of the Gospel in the Catholic Church. His eyes were being opened in his study of the Scriptures, and he was seeing the Gospel in a way he had never before. He wrote out 95 statements that opposed specific teachings of the Catholic Church, and on October 31, 1517, he nailed it, which became known as the “95 Theses”, to the front door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany, and inadvertently launched the Reformation.
This event is the single most important event in church history in the past 500 years, and our lives have been radically and very directly affected by it. Today, many churches celebrate October 31st as “Reformation Day.”
- For us today: Some of the men I highlight to my kids the most, because of the scope of their influence, but especially because of the timing of Reformation Day, are the men who brought and helped later spread this needed doctrinal reform to the church, including, of course, Luther, but also John Calvin, Jonathon Edwards, John Owen, John Bunyan, and Spurgeon.
4.) Redeeming Traditions
History: In ancient Ireland, turnips were originally used as Jack-o-Lanterns. When Hallowe’en was exported to America in the late 1800’s, the food of choice became a pumpkin (leave it to us Americans to always go bigger and more excessive!). It’s something that many kids enjoy doing and have fun creating.
- For us today: When we carve our pumpkins, I relate the pumpkin to how God works salvation in our own lives. This makes the most sense after a few stories about how God saved some of these men from the past, both family and others in our spiritual heritage. I tell them that God divinely chooses us, opens us up and starts transforming us from the inside out, beginning with scooping out all of our sin and placing it at the cross of Christ. He then goes to work on us, giving us our newly carved identity and putting the Holy Spirit inside of us, giving us life and then letting our light shine before men. And of course, it sure helps if the newly carved face is smiling, not angry.It’s simple, a little cheesy, and I don’t promise it to be some life-changing event, but it’s just another way to remind them of God’s work of bringing life, especially during a season with so much imagery of death.
5.) Don’t be Superstitious
History: Some of the folks back in the day believed that since it was the transition from autumn to winter, that on Samhain (the pre-Christian Hallowe’en), the souls of the dead could pass into the land of the living. But the fact of the matter is that October 31 is no more evil than any other day of the year, and demons have no more power than any other day.
In most recent years, Christians have discouraged kids from dressing up as Satan or anything evil. While I do believe that there is a disturbing line that we can cross, the irony is that it was the church who originally encouraged people to dress this way on Hallowe’en (after Samhain became Christianized). The reason? It was meant to be a mockery of Satan. Did you really think that a guy with a pitchfork in a red jump suit was a flattering and intimidating image of Satan? They dressed up this way as a reminder that “He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world.”
- For us today: I tell my kids that Satan is so weak in comparison to Christ, that he has to use fake rubber masks and fake blood to try to scare us. I let them know that originally, people dressed up in order to make fun of Satan, not to honor him. This helps them understand who really has the power and how silly the faux power of Satan really is.
6.) Be Missional
History: In many Christian circles, churches have had a very legalistic and judgmental approach to Hallowe’en. Any participation in it was deemed as demonic, anti-Christian, and ungodly. Thankfully, the church has embraced her role as being a sent church and sees Hallowe’en as being one of the most prime times of the year to meet neighbors, be generous, and be a witness of Christ.
- For us today: Travel with your neighbors, especially if they don’t know Jesus. Get to know them, have fun watching your kids play with their kids, introduce yourself to the neighbors whose houses you knock at. Hand out free hot chocolate in your driveway, buy the big candy bars, and just simply use the opportunity to socialize. Every Hallowe’en I seem to kick myself and say, “why didn’t I plan this out better to be a better neighbor?!” This really is one of the best times of year, if not the best night of the year, to meet people in your neighborhood. As you meet some of these neighbors, take the initiative when people are most sociable and suggest a future block party or dinner party. Take the opportunity to finally invite one or two couples over for dinner. Hallowe’en is an amazing ice-breaker!
7.) Be Wise
History: Though it’s true that October 31st is no more evil than any other day, it is also true that there are lots of spooky things out there that aren’t normally in stores and on TV and in neighborhoods. Know your children. Some are more sensitive than others. Use every opportunity to teach them and help them mature and grow and become strong in understanding concepts like death, hell, evil, and darkness, but most especially the power of God over all of them. Don’t allow them to do anything that is truly of the occult, such as Ouija boards, séances, and other activities that many kids like to experiment with on Halloween. Be aware of what they are doing and why.
- For us today: My kids are younger, so there is no desire in them to try out anything that may be demonic. We keep our Hallowe’en fun to candy, seeing neighbors, dressing up, enjoying the neighborhood, having dinner with friends, and carving pumpkins. On that level, Hallowe’en is very benign, since there is nothing at all wrong with any of those things I just listed.
As with everything in this world, there are many things we can receive, many we should reject, and many that we can redeem. Not everything with Hallowe’en should be embraced, yet much of Hallowe’en can be an opportunity to glorify God in big ways. For my family, it’s a time of thanksgiving, enjoying friends and family, having fun, learning about our family heritage as well as our spiritual heritage and church history, as well as a great time to be in the community and share the Gospel. Also, remember that not everyone enjoys Hallowe’en, and for a number of reasons. No one is more (or less) spiritual for rejecting Hallowe’en, and no one is more (or less) spiritual for receiving Hallowe’en.
For more reading and resources, check out these websites:
On its history and whether we should participate, from www.carm.org: Click Here
On Reformation Day and Hallowe’en’s Christian origin, from John Piper: Click Here
On being missional on Hallowe’en: Click Here
Seeing Hallowe’en through a broader biblical lens: Click Here
UPDATE: This article was updated from last year’s original 2013 post, mainly to fix typos.