To Trick or Treat? That is the Question!

Pumpkins...not part of the Christian side of Halloween
Pumpkins…not part of the Christian side of Halloween
Trick or treating - part of the Christian tradition
Trick or treating – part of the Christian tradition

In just a few days, people dressed in fanciful clothes will show up at your doorstep.

And no, I’m not talking about Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Although, it would be an ideal time to go door-to-door wouldn’t it?  Almost everyone opens up the door on Halloween.  But on October 31st, children all over the country will be ringing doorbells and shouting “Trick or treat!”  And even though for most kids, Halloween is about dressing up as your favorite characters and getting a huge sugar rush, it’s also a time often associated with witches and demons and other things evil.  The question inevitably arises every year – should Christians celebrate Halloween?  We hear it on the news, on talk radio, in the papers this debate over whether or not Christians should celebrate Halloween.  First of all, we probably need to clear something up.  Halloween is actually a derivative word for “Holy Evening.”[1]  Halloween is actually a derivative word for “Holy Evening” since “hallowed” means “holy” and “e’en” is an abbreviated term for evening.  The term came about as a shortened version of the Christian celebration of All Hallows Eve.  It was an evening that was spent in prayer and preparation for the celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day where the souls of those departed were remembered and honored.  Even the Halloween custom of trick-or-treating has Christian origins.  Even the Halloween custom of trick-or-treating has Christian origins as children would go from house-to-house on All Hallows Eve and ask for soul cakes in exchange for their prayers for the dead.[2]  The idea of Halloween being all about evil and demons and ghosts doesn’t pay homage to its Christian roots and ignores part of the rich history of this holiday.

But there is a pagan aspect to Halloween that runs contrary to our Christian beliefs.

Part of the long history of this day is intertwined with the Celtic tradition of honoring Samhain, which was Old Irish for “end of summer” and there would traditionally be a festival on this day to celebrate the end of the harvest season.  As the story goes, during this time the magic of fairies was strong and often these fairies, who were not particularly nice, along with other evil spirits would come and seek to wreck havoc on the unsuspecting.  According to some legends, these evil spirits would try to inhabit the bodies of those still alive.  People would light bonfires and dress up in costumes to confuse and drive away those spirits to keep everyone safe for another year.[3]  The concept of evil spirits roaming the world on this night is what has grown to be the darker, and more sinister aspect of the holiday.  Seances, communing with the dead, and other superstitious elements come from these pagan beliefs.  Somehow, all of these different elements – pagan and Christian alike – have combined to form the holiday of Halloween that we know today.

The thing is, most people don’t know about the origins of Halloween.

Some Christians might know about All Saints Day and may have even heard of All Hallows Eve, but might have no idea what connection there is between those events and what we call Halloween.  Instead they’ve jumped to the conclusion that all of Halloween is evil and that it’s influence is evil.  They don’t know that some of what they are protesting has its roots in the long rich history of our faith.  And they only see the aspects of Halloween that they fear – the parts that have to do with the occult, demons, and the devil.  But for the vast majority of people in the world, Halloween is not about any of those things.  It’s about candy and dressing up and having fun.  It’s about imagination and creativity.  It’s the spirit and joy of going out into the community and giving and sharing with one another.  But when we let our fear and ignorance about something take over, we become closed-minded and judgmental.  We are perceived as out-of-touch and irrelevant which is precisely what Paul warns us against in his passage from his first letter to the Corinthians.  If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to 1 Corinthians 10 beginning with verse 23.   1 Corinthians 10:23.  Now as you may or may not know, Paul wrote many different letters to the early church in different cities and places, offering them his wisdom and guidance and sometimes reprimand about their behavior and these letters make up part of the New Testament in the Bible because they offer us wisdom and advice for issues facing our churches as well.  In this letter, Paul is trying to give them advice on leading a Christian life.  Apparently there was some confusion and dispute over how we as Christians ought to behave and what it meant to be free in Christ.  Some people were taking that to mean that freedom in Christ meant they could do whatever they want and Paul is trying to warn them that is not the case.  And that’s where we pick up in our passage this morning.

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Sometimes we like to be pretentious or judgmental.

And that’s what Paul is talking about here.  That there are times when we spend too much time questioning everything or making a show of ourselves when what is important to God is the heart behind what we do.  God is interested in intention, not pretension.  God is interested in intention, not pretension.  That’s why Paul brings up eating in another person’s home. It would be rude and pretentious to question someone’s meal that they place before you.  You might ask about food allergies, but otherwise you wouldn’t think of insulting someone who cooked for you.  As a guest, our obligation is toward the host and not ourselves.  We know that God will be forgiving if our intention is to build up someone else.  Do you have the right to ask questions?  Do you have a right to refuse something?  Yes, of course.  But we should instead be asking the question, does my action build someone up?  Does that honor God?  Those are the more important questions.  So when it comes to something like Halloween, do we have the right not to participate?  Of course.  But of what good is that to God?  What is gained from sheltering ourselves from the world?

We should be looking for MORE opportunities to engage our neighbors, not less.

Halloween is an opportune time to show the love of neighbor.  Make sure your house is well-lit.  Participate in giving out candy.  In fact, give out the best candy on the block!  Make yourself known for your generosity and kindness.  Introduce yourself to neighbors when you notice them coming up to the house.  Use this time as a chance to make a difference in how you treat one another.  If you’ve gone trick-or-treating with your kids or grandkids, you know how disappointed they are when they come to a “dark house” – someone with no lights on the front porch.  Especially when you know they are home.  One time, just as we were walking up to someone’s house, they turned the lights off.  How unfriendly is that?  It was like you could almost here them, “Mildred!  I forgot!  It’s Halloween!  Turn the lights off or we’ll be socially obligated to give out candy!  Quick!”  It’s just so disappointing.  Or how many times have you come across the candy bowl stuck out on the front porch?  The worst is when you get there and there’s nothing in it.  I always think some smart, greedy kid came along and took the whole thing.  Would it really be that bothersome on this one night of the year to meet your neighbors?  How hard would it be to compliment a child on his costume?  So don’t shy away from this opportunity to become a member of your community.

Does that mean you should participate in EVERYTHING to do with Halloween?

Not at all.  There are some darker aspects of Halloween that serve no useful purpose other than to enforce that we live in a world that has the potential to be evil and scary.  We can just turn on the television to reinforce that.  I’m not sure why some people take such joy out of scaring little kids when instead they could do something fun and inventive.  And we wouldn’t want to participate in things that take us away from honoring God like séances or divination or communing with the dead.  Those are the kind of things that take us away from focusing on God.  But otherwise, we are missing a golden opportunity to engage our community in showing others the love of neighbor that God commands us to do.  We need not worry about going down a slippery slope toward evil or encouraging our children toward the occult.  If we are doing our job as parents and grandparents, we have already equipped our kids to be strong spiritually and not to believe in such things.  And we can reinforce that teaching with the choices we make.  But it would be another lost chance for us to show our love of neighbor if we don’t participate.  So challenge yourselves this Halloween.  If you live in an area where kids go trick-or-treating, turn on your lights this coming holiday and invite your neighbors to come to your door.  Challenge yourselves to give the best treats possible and by doing so show kindness and love to your neighbor.  Complement the children on their costumes and find something positive to say about each one.  And then pray for them all that they may know Christ like you do.  Let us close today in prayer.

Our Father in Heaven, we pray this morning for our children and the children of our community.  May you protect them this Halloween and every evening from the things that go bump in the night.  Help us to be a help and not a hindrance in their lives.  Help us to encourage them to participate in their communities while never letting go of the values and ideas that keep them close to you.  And help them to know that the ghosts and ghouls of Halloween are only legends and superstitions and that the only supernatural thing they need to believe in is you.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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