Posted by: Philip Rushton | October 31, 2011

Why This Protestant Participates In Halloween

The celebration of Halloween has always faced opposition among Christians. This is understandable. The roots of the holiday are clearly pagan. Historian Nicholas Rogers argues that the origin of this holiday is most likely attributed to the Celtic festival of Samuin. This festival marked the end of autumn and the preparation for winter. There were superstitious traditions built into this festival. The Gauls thought it was a time of year when spirits were close, so they would build large bonfires to scare off the ghosts.

There is an added level of resistance to Halloween among those from Protestant traditions, because the celebration of Halloween also has some catholic roots. In the middle ages the celebration of All Saint’s Day (also known as Hallowmas or All Hallows Day), was time where people prayed for past saints and for those still in purgatory. During the Reformation, Protestants in Britain and elsewhere denounced All Hallows Day on the grounds that purgatory is unbibilical. Puritans banned the celebration in the new world for similar reasons. In fact, October 31st in Protestant circles is officially Reformation Day. It is a day when we celebrate Martin Luther’s 95 theses against the Catholic church.

So what is a Reformed christian to do with this holiday? Should we protest the celebration, set up an alternative harvest festival as many churches do, or turn off our lights and pretend we aren’t home when the neighbor kids come by? One conservative publication suggests that we start having Reformation day parties. The author writes, “why not have a celebration at church where all get dressed up as characters from the Reformation (I’ve dressed up as John Calvin, Martin Luther, a peasant, and even John Tetzel (the salesman of those infamous indulgences)? When I couldn’t get a 16th century idea then I dressed as a Bible character. You can transform the fellowship hall into Wittenburg, Germany or Geneva. Here is an opportunity to go over the great “solas” of the Reformation . . .” Seems like a bit of a hard sell to a candy crazed child!

To be sure, we should certainly avoid events or practices that legitimately celebrate evil or engage in the occult. However, it has been my experience that this is rarely what goes on. While the Celtic Guals in the 10th century really did think they were driving away ghosts, our secular modern culture does not. For the most part Halloween is an opportunity to dress up, get free candy and have fun with your neighbors. Sounds like fun to me!

One of the main reasons why I think it is legitimate and even preferable to participate in Halloween is that it allows us to engage with our neighbors. One of the major problems with contemporary culture is that we are completely cut off from those that live around us. As cultural commentator Faith Popcorn (weird name by the way) points out, one of the major trends in modern culture is cocooning. We set up our private oasis and cease to interact with our neighbors. We’ve replaced ‘community with cocoonity.” One of the great things about Halloween is that we get outside and interact with our neighbors. My concern with the christian alternatives to Halloween, is that they build unnecessary walls between us and our community. We are already very cut off from our communities. We often function more like a holy huddle then the sent people that Jesus envisioned. Halloween provides us with a natural opportunity to create memories and connections with our neighbors.

So what are your thoughts? Should Christians participate in the secular traditions of Halloween?


  1. Philip, you bring such a refreshing focus to traditions that cause such divisions. I appreciate your perspective.

  2. I’ve participated in Halloween (all the way into my twenties!) and gone to Reformation Day parties, Hallelujah parties, and harvest festivals. They’re all a good cause for celebration. I have nothing against the fun aspects of Halloween, and agree with your point that we need to go beyond the “holy huddle.”

  3. On one hand, I don’t think we should look like the world. We should be “different” in many ways. Halloween always makes me uneasy, like participating is joining the ways of the world. But that also makes me hypocritical, since like all my neighbors, I was laughing at costumes and handing out treats last night. The fact is, children just want to have fun. And wearing a costume is fun. And I love to see the clever costumes that people come up with.

    • Thanks Valarie,

      I appreciate your thoughts!
      Yes we have been commissioned live out an intricate balance by Jesus. In John 17 he tells us to be ‘in but not of the world.’ On the one hand we are not to separate ourselves from the world and live in seclusion, yet we are also not to take on the patterns of the world. When it comes to Halloween I see this as a great opportunity to embed ourselves deeper into our neighborhoods – to actually be in the world of those around us. What requires discernment is whether participating in these events requires us to be worldly. In my experience a participation in some of these fun traditions has not seemed dangerously worldly, but I’m sure it could become very worldly in some situations. I think we need to be more careful about being ‘of’ the world, in the subtle patterns we inherit everyday – ie living with greed, avoiding reconciliation, not being a good steward of time and resources.

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