What Does Halloween Mean?

What Does Halloween Mean?

“But you’re a beautiful witch!”  Does that sound somewhat familiar? You may recognize it as a quote from the classic movie The Wizard of Oz.  You know the story, Dorothy and her dog Toto landed in Munchkin Land right on top of the of Wicked Witch of the East. Soon Glenda, the “Good Witch” of North, arrived who declared Dorothy a hero of the Land of Oz.  She was then followed by the Wicked Witch of the West who threatened to kill Dorothy and Toto (although, according to a recent Broadway musical, the Wicked Witch of the West was so wicked only because she was badly mistreated as a child as a result of being born green).

In any case, every year at this time our cultural fascination with witches and occult is magnified.  October 31 is, of course, Halloween.  It is also, on the old Roman Catholic calendar, the day before All Saints Day (Nov. 1).  Thus, the day before came to be known as the “Hallowed Evening”, which later was contracted to “Halloween”.

That date also is Reformation Day for historically Protestant churches.  On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses of objections to some of the practices of the Catholic Church on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s challenge and refusal to recant set in motion the events that eventually led to the Protestant Reformation.

The celebration we now call Halloween actually has its roots in ancient pre-Christian European history. As long as 2,000 years ago, pagan Celtic tribes in what is now Great Britain, Ireland, and France celebrated the beginning of their new year on November 1. The day before, October 31, was known as the “Day of the Dead” in honor of their “Lord of Death”, Samhain (pronounced Sa’ win). According to the mythology, on that day the spirits of the dead would be released to terrify the living. Celtic priests, called Druids, would perform magic rituals to appease and conjure Samhain, other gods, and the spirits.

Thus people would dress up in unusual costumes and place lights and such on their houses to ward off the ghosts.  When Europe was Christianized in the Middle Ages, the “Day of The Dead” (Nov. 1) was transformed to a time to remember dead saints and loved ones.  The activities on the day before were often retained which evolved into the present celebration of Halloween. Unfortunately, it often retained as well much of its occult (hidden magic) practices. That’s probably why today it has become associated with occult magic, witches, ghosts, etc. Modern neo-pagans, such as Wiccans, have revived the magic rituals (as they think they were done) to appease the pagan gods of the earth and sky.

So, Christians ask, what should we feel about Halloween? Should we completely ignore it as a pagan and demonic festival, as some have suggested?  Should we not allow our children to dress up and go treat-or-treat? Obviously, Christians should never engage in any occult practices (see Deuteronomy 18: 9- 14).  We must always have a strong sense of what is spiritually edifying and what is not.  Nonetheless, on Halloween, there is no harm in children wearing costumes that allow them to exercise their imaginations and go through the neighborhood to get candy. However, parents need to make sure the costumes their kids wear are spiritually and morally appropriate, monitor what their children are being exposed to, and accompany them on their excursions.

Christians need not be paranoid about Halloween. They can even use Halloween night as an opportunity to share Christ with children and families in their neighborhoods.  For instance, along with the candy they give the trick-or-treaters who come to their doors, Christians may also include an age-appropriate Bible tract (always ask the children’s parents, if they are accompanying them, if they approve or ask them to read it first).

Dorothy had good reasons for being afraid of the Wicked Witch. We still need to have a healthy caution as well of unbiblical and spiritually dangerous practices.  Halloween especially is a time when we must exercise discernment. As 1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God.”

© 2011 By Tal Davis