Every year at this time we see a strangely American ritual occur – the appearance of Halloween decorations. While I know that we say it is all done in fun, it certainly has the appearance of evil. Maybe you are rolling your eyes at my negative depiction; after all, there isn’t anything ‘evil’ in what you are doing! Possibly, but applying the principle of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), I find it difficult to rationalize much of what is celebrated.
If we claim to follow Christ, we should find Halloween troubling at two levels: the origins of the anti-holiday and the increasing darkness shown in its celebration.
First, I say ‘anti-holiday’ since ‘holiday’ means ‘holy day’ and the origins of Halloween is anything but holy. The origins and traditions of Halloween are traced back thousands of years to the days when the Celts and their priests, the Druids, celebrated Samhain, a festival that marked the eve of the Celtic New Year, which began on November 1.
The Celts believed that during Samhain the veil separating the living from the dead was at its thinnest and that on the evening of October 31, evil spirits and the souls of the dead could pass through the barrier and enter the world of the living.
They would light huge bonfires to guide the way of the spirits; they offered sacrifices and even left out food for the spirits, hoping that a "treat" would prevent an evil "trick." Centuries later, descendants of the Celts continued to observe the Samhain festival by dressing as evil spirits. Donned in their costumes, they roamed from house to house demanding food for the "spirits" to prevent the home from being harmed. They would place hollowed-out turnips light with candles and carved with demon faces to keep their places safe. Any of this sound familiar?
In time, much of the belief in spirits waned, but many of the old Samhain traditions continued to be practiced. Children, primarily in Ireland, dressed as spirits and went from house to house demanding a treat. If they received none, they performed an unwelcomed trick. They were play-acting the part of evil spirits that had to be appeased, imitating the old Samhain festival where people believed they really did have to appease spirits. When the Irish immigrants came to the US in the mid-1800’s they brought with them the Halloween traditions we're familiar with.
However, do the origins of Halloween matter? Can’t children and adults see Halloween as simply a fun, “dress-up” day? This is a good question; most say that it doesn’t matter. Nevertheless, should it matter? If we say no, then we find ourselves on a slippery slope that leads us away from ‘WWJD’ to the second area of concern: the increasing darkness seen in Halloween celebrations.
Where neighbors once sought to outdo each other with their Christmas decorations, today it seems that some are seeking to see who can put up the most gruesome display. All in fun, right? But isn’t there something wrong when we speak of something evil as good?
The problem is our attraction to the things of darkness; so much so that we can be blinded to how far we have gone. The Message paraphrases John 3:19-20 this way, “This is the crisis we’re in: God’s light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God’s light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure.”
Our culture encourages us to keep pushing the envelope; for what once frightened us no longer does. In the end, we have become desensitized to the darkness. At what point will we say enough? I am certain some will cry foul – what is the big deal, it is all done in fun. I hear you, but I cannot see the fun of celebrating evil. We only need to step into the light to see how dark the darkness truly is.
How should we respond? I appreciate John’s words, “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” (3 John 1:11) John’s point is clear: we are to imitate and do that which is good, not evil. I have no doubt that this is what Jesus would do!