informal essays

Redeeming Halloween

As a Christian, there are a number of things I don’t like about Halloween. I think it has an unbalanced focus on death, an ungodly glorification of fear, and potential openings into the occult and demonic activity. But there are a number of cultural Halloween traditions that are harmless in themselves: dressing up, asking neighbors for candy, and so on. This time of year, many Christians ponder whether or not they should participate in these traditions due to the darker associations of the holiday itself.

There is plenty of information on the Internet expounding upon the strange history of the jack-o’lantern, or the weird practices of ancient Druids that may or may not have some connection to suburban American children running around in costumes at the end of October. In reading some of the discussion about these things, I can’t help but be reminded of Christian arguments about other objects and activities that are often avoided strictly due to their associations. I respect Christians who refrain from utilizing a Christmas tree in December because of the pagan origins of the tradition. But I can’t help thinking that a Christmas tree is ultimately just a tree that God has made. And I can’t help thinking that maybe by using that tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus – and maybe even making a cutesy metaphor about the “evergreen” nature of God’s love that does not change with the seasons – we can redeem that tree from its pagan origins and celebrate its true glory, even as a small picture of Jesus’s redemption of our souls.

When God made the world, he said that all of it was good, and he is in the business of redeeming things to their “good” state. Usually we think of this having to do with the redemption of man, but man was not the only part of creation that lost its perfect state due to the fall, and I do not think it is the only part of creation that can be restored. In Jesus’s parable of the talents, a servant who was not using his talent for good had the talent taken from him and given to a servant who would use it for something better. Many of the old hymns were derived from famous drinking songs of their times. There was nothing inherently unholy about the intervals between the pitches of the melody, but they were not being used for holy purposes until the hymn writer “redeemed” the melody and gave it lyrics to the Lord. There is nothing inherently unholy about a tree that God has made, but it is not being used for holy purposes until a Christian brings it into his home to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Likewise, I suppose there is nothing inherently unholy about dressing up in a superhero costume to ask your neighbors for candy, although you may have to be a little more creative to come up with a way to “redeem” such an activity. After all, just because some Halloween traditions may not be inherently sinful, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s advisable for Christians to participate in them. I know what you’re thinking. “Permissible but not beneficial!” “In but not of!” “Set apart for the Lord!” Or from the other side: “New covenant! Freedom, not legalism! Ministry opportunities and relevance!”

Now we can argue Scripture references and context and theology all day long, but more simply I just don’t like the idea that Satan can take harmless things that God created for good, associate them with evil things, and suddenly turn them into things that we can’t use. (If devil-worshipping bands sprang up in every single genre of music, would it make every single genre unusable to bring glory to God? Of course not!) I like to think that we can redeem those harmless things to the original good state that God intended.

Life is complicated. There are gray areas. So read the Scriptures and listen to the Holy Spirit to try to discern whether or not certain harmless things are so strongly associated with evil things that it’s better to just stay away from them, or if they’re just harmless things that you can use for good and enjoyment. I like Christians who decide that Halloween has to do with a lot of evil things and they’re just not going to take part in it at all. Good for you. But I’m going to don a robe and accordion and sit on my driveway, and I’m going to meet the children of my neighborhood and try to get to know them and encourage them. Happy Halloween!