By Bob Setzer
As a Baptist boy growing up in the South, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. It was the one time of year my preferred sins were sanctioned: gluttony (especially of the chocolate variety) and getting to dress up like a ghost or goblin. The latter allowed me to go public with the fact there was a dark side to my good-boy image.
Not all children dress up for Halloween in ghoulish costumes, of course. Some dress up as the cutest possible lions, princesses, and fairies. But boys, as a rule, go for the action-figure look or revel in turning themselves into a vampire or werewolf. In my Halloween heyday, I was partial to Frankenstein’s monster.
Thus, for me, Halloween has always been a festive, fun-loving time. I loved it as a kid and I love it as an adult. What’s not to like about seeing children get to live out their most outrageous — if harmless — fantasies for one magical evening?
However, there are a good many Christians and churches who view Halloween as Public Enemy Number One (or at least Number Two or Number Three). The objections, to the extent I can fathom them, seem to be twofold: (1) Halloween began as a pagan festival and therefore, is sub-Christian and (2) celebrating Halloween constitutes dabbling in the occult.
As to the first objection, it is true Halloween has its roots in ancient Roman and Celtic festivals marking the approach of a cold, dark winter. At such times, ancient peoples believed, the boundary between the living and the dead thinned and ghosts might slip through. Eventually, these pagan celebrations were Christianized as “All Hallows Eve,” the evening before All Saints’ Day, November 1. By the late 19th century, especially in America, Halloween had essentially become a secular holiday featuring tricks and treats for the children.
But if we’re going to dismiss holidays because of their pagan origins, let’s get rid of Christmas while we’re at it. December 25 was originally the day Romans celebrated the rebirth of the sun god during the winter solstice. Thankfully, Christians turned that day into something far better: a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Personally, I like the take-something-bad-and-turn-it-into-something-good approach to once-pagan festivities. As Luther said of hymnody, “Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?”
As to dabbling with the occult, I seriously doubt Satan — whoever or whatever one deems Satan to be — sees Halloween as a ripe opportunity for snatching a few unsuspecting souls. No, Satan prefers the stealthy approach, sneaking up on us when we least expect it. According to the New Testament, Satan is far more likely to show up disguised as “an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:4) than reveal his true colors as the Prince of Darkness. Peter thought he was doing God’s will, talking Jesus off the cliff of making the ultimate sacrifice, when Jesus snapped at him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33).
So in the interest of a kinder, gentler approach toward seven-year-old ghouls and goblins, here’s my suggestion for Halloween: Turn on the porch light. Have plenty of candy on hand. Be a neighbor. Welcome and delight in the kids who show up at your door. Smile at the parents who linger behind in the shadows. Act a lot less like a finicky, self-righteous Pharisee and a lot more like a joyous, fun-loving Jesus. Make him proud. Shine his light. Share his love.
Trust me: If Satan is in the area, he won’t linger long at a place like that.