Making Peace With Halloween

By

A couple nights ago, as I was in the throes of carving our family’s final jack-o-lantern – feverishly cutting out the stripes of Charlie Brown’s shirt (we usually fashion our pumpkins into Peanuts characters) – Taya gave a gentle, reflective laugh. “I love what you’re doing right now”“What?”

“I love how you’re really digging into that pumpkin”

picture-11“What are you talking about?”

“Remember when we were first married?” she asks, and then brings our boys into the conversation. “When we were first married, you guys, your dad wouldn’t allow us to have pumpkins, dress up, or even have candy to give out.”

“Really dad, how come?”

Taya continued, “As I recall, you didn’t even let us have a Christmas tree that first year.” She said with a soft and gracious smile, remarkably without a note of accusation or contempt.

n747059965_1519314_76211

“Why?” one of the boys asked again.

I was having to put my elbows into it now, hollowing out the flesh of the pumpkin so the candle would better show through the carving. “Ahhhh, you guys…” I said with a tone of regretful concession…

“I grew up in a pretty legalistic environment where they believed Halloween was the devil’s holiday, and if you participated in it at all, you were guilty of devil worship. And then because of some obscure verse – in Jeremiah or Isaiah I think – about bringing a tree into your living room… well, because of this I wouldn’t let your mom get a Christmas tree either. Sorry.” I said with an apologetic smile, addressing Taya. Returning to the work at hand I said, “I’m glad you hung in there with me.”

I guess you could say my convictions on these kinds of things have taken a different shape over the years. There are those from my legalistic past who might say I’ve softened, but in fact it actually feels like my theology on these things has sharpened, maybe even enough to divide soul and spirit, “judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” For this is where, in my opinion, what’s really at stake comes to light.

This post would take much too long to definitively defend and document all that could be said about Halloween, and I’m writing this less as a comprehensive manifesto than as a humble perspective that I hope might make for enjoyable reading and maybe even aid in a grace-full observance of a holiday that comes with some baggage and leaves some of us with mixed feelings (you know who you are).

And it’s not hard to see why, what with all the images of death and darkness that go along with the day. But in my case, most of my personal hang ups concerning Halloween came from the same place that all my legalistic leanings come from: fear. Fear has always distorted the way I see the world and caused me to be reactive, to circle the wagons and take a strident, defensive stance. Fear shrinks my world and can even make me doubt grace and it’s hold on me.

Fear that if I listen to secular music, my mind will be darkened and I’ll become a sex crazed reprobate. Fear that if I have a sip of beer I’ll become an alcoholic. Fear that if I enjoy something it must be inherently bad. Fear that if I go trick or treating with my kids or put up a Christmas tree I’ll inadvertently cast us headlong into paganism.

And so on and so forth.

But fear is what love intends to cast out, because to act out of fear is very different than to act out of love. If fear is reactive, maybe we can understand love as being pro-active.

One of the more humbling and awe-inspiring theological traditions is the idea that we are called to be co-creators with Christ. Of course we can’t create like God did, ex nihilo, out of nothing, but God has called us to re-create with what he’s already made – and there isn’t anything that exists that wasn’t made by him. Bent and broken as a thing may be, there is the possibility for its redemption. And we get to play a part in the unfolding drama of this ongoing redemption. At least that’s how I read it.

In this way, I believe that as co-creators with Christ we’re also given the task to be co-sanctifiers, or “little Christs” as C.S. Lewis might say – participating in Kingdom Come, reclaiming what otherwise might be lost, bringing it into submission to Christ.

Maybe you remember the worship wars in the 80’s and 90’s when there was much debate over things like whether or not you could have drums in a sanctuary and everyone was arguing about which style of music was God’s favorite? Well, at some point we had to realize that music is more often than not what we make of it. Heavy metal or easy listening, both or neither can bring honor to God – it depends on what intention of the heart is driving it. It was the human heart, after all, that lusted for the forbidden fruit. It was with our hearts, more than our hands, that we reached to take the fruit, ushering in the Fall. And it is still within the human heart where fates are determined and identities revealed.

Food sacrificed to idols is not necessarily evil when placed in the hands of the true worshipper of God. Purified and repurposed in the heart and conscience of the believer, it is restored to its original state of being simply food. If it’s the heart that defiles or purifies food (1 Cor. 8:7), I guess I came to believe that it’s also the heart that defiles or purifies a certain day of the year. And if it was God’s will for me to play a redemptive role in all this, I wanted to start trying out for the most beautiful part available to me.

Much of my religious formation took place in a milieu of shame, fear, and guilt, leaving me at once affirmed in my self-righteousness, alone in my sin, and burnt out on the holiness-works-guilt treadmill as I tried to prove my devotion to both God and myself.

Into that milieu, God visited me with a grace awakening several years ago through authors like Brennan Manning and Frederick Buechner as well as a renewed filter through which to read my bible – texts that once barked their austere demands at me slowly began to whisper and hum with secrets of a Love so outlandish and scandalous that I could hardly take it in. Books like Galatians and of course the gospels came alive for me with colors and notes I’d never noticed before. And slowly, ever so slowly, the bondage of fear began to break and the world was given back to me. The difference between legitimate and imagined ideas of sin and devotion began to come into focus, too.

In the matter of Halloween, I began to see that my own reservations about the day had more to do with my own baggage than that of the holiday itself.

What I suppose I should mention here is that I take evil and the occult very seriously. A part of my history that I don’t like to dwell on is the fact that for many years I lived with a stepfather who was deeply involved in the occult. I could tell you stories, but I’ll spare us both. Suffice it to say that a lot of what gets passed off as “occultic” or satanic has very little to do with the real thing.

Much is made of Halloween’s ties to the occult, though further research reveals that a lot of its association with the holiday might be more a matter of hype, opportunism, and aesthetic than anything else. Do distasteful and evil things take place on Halloween night? Regrettably, I’m sure of it. Is it really the devil’s holiday? I don’t think so. It could be, if that’s what you want to make of it, but to say October 31st is inherently evil is maybe to give more power to a day than is warranted.

Some of Halloween’s roots come from the Celtic “Festival Of The Dead” – a day to mark the end of the harvest season as well as the months of extended light before heading into the darker months. It was also a time to remember and even honor the dead. It was believed by the superstitious to coincide with a time when the barrier between the physical and the spirit world was thinner, leading to all kinds of bizarre notions of dressing up in fearsome masks in order to scare away any evil spirits that might have broken through. dsc_0202I’m reminded of the hulking statues of fierce warriors that Taya and I saw guarding the gates of the Buddhist temple in Asakusa in Tokyo who were posted there to scare away evil spirits that might want to crash the party and harass devout temple goers. This kind of stuff reveals misguided ideas of good and evil, but is relatively harmless, I suppose – except to the degree that they distract us from the truth of how the world really works.

So it’s not my intent to diminish the reality of Satan and his work – I’m sure the devil is pleased when we don’t believe he exists. But I imagine he is equally pleased when we are distracted by distorted and misguided notions of who he is and what he’s doing.

I’m not convinced that Satan is as determined to recruit worshippers as much as he’s content to influence us to worship ourselves – the very thing we are the most eager to do. The temptation in the Garden, if we remember, was that we would “be as gods”, that we would be central and in the driver’s seat. Are there those who devote their lives to actual devil worship? Yes, I’m sure. But let me suggest that when we are persuaded to serve ourselves – when we are self-centered – we serve Satan’s agenda and participate, intentionally or not, in the work of the devil. All the hurt, war, poverty, dissension, and deceit that are born of our selfishness has brought more hell on earth than the relatively small number of sincere Satanists, whose religious identity seems more or less driven by a desire to be counter-culture and empowered, which in the end is more about self-service than genuine religious devotion anyway. Marilyn Manson is less a devilish threat than he is a pitiable attention seeker.

In other words, it’s probable that my misguided attempts at taking a stand against Halloween, rooted in my own fear and self-righteousness, may have done more to distract myself and those around me from the more legitimate and potent works of the devil. One thing I do know for sure is that they didn’t do a thing to make the gospel look beautiful. They probably just made me and my faith look foolish.

And this brings me back to the matter of carving jack-o-lanterns. When Taya and I were first married, I forbid such pagan practices in our home assuming there to be something inherently sinister about carving a face in the flesh of a pumpkin. When kids would come to our door, I’d awkwardly explain that we didn’t have candy because we didn’t participate in Halloween (until I couldn’t stomach it anymore and just stopped answering the door). And though it pains me greatly to admit this, I will confess in the interest of truth telling that one year I even handed out some gospel tracts to trick or treaters.

I’m sure the kids really appreciated that! I’m sure they couldn’t wait to find out more about this stingy Jesus who doesn’t let his followers hand out candy to kids. Score one against Ol’ Scratch, right?

A lot has changed since then, and these days my guiding conviction is that my job as a co-sanctifier with Christ is to take what is broken and do my part in reclaiming it, perhaps even making it beautiful, by God’s grace. My earlier attempts of disavowing Halloween were neither redemptive nor beautiful. At best they might have been neutral, but I suspect they did more damage than good.

And all the while my poor Taya suffered from my misguided religious zeal! That is, until we had kids. And then she put her foot down.

My resolve was beginning to crack by that time anyway, and my first venture back into the world of trick or treating was timid (though I had loved it as a kid). Our twins were two and we dressed them up as Charlie Brown and Linus (it was awesome!) and went to the Barnes & Noble Halloween party where they toddled around asking workers for candy. It was fun, and I even made it through the experience unscathed by guilt!

Since then, Halloween has become one of our favorite holidays in the Gray household. We try to avoid “the appearance of evil” by eschewing costumes that strike us as “dark” or otherwise distasteful, choosing instead to hit the streets as a whoopee cushion, bottle of ketchup, or a ninja warrior, walking the two blocks of our street freezing in the late October chill. When the twins were little and their hands would get cold, they’d each slip them into my gloved hand to warm them up as we’d walk door to door. It’s one of my most cherished memories of all time. Then I’d stand back as they would timidly take the steps of a neighbor’s house, knock, and with little voices say “trick or treat” and then “thank you”. Taya would stay back at our house to greet trick or treaters, handing out copious amounts of candy (everyone knows us as the “gospel singing family” and she wants to build a reputation of generosity for us. Perhaps she’s also making up for the “lost years”…) Over time it has grown into a Halloween party where we invite friends over and Taya makes cookies in the shapes of fingers and eyeballs, and we laugh and enjoy each other immensely. You see, these days I’m more interested in reclaiming things and repurposing them than I am protesting.

All this to say: I’m excited about our Halloween plans this year.

I’m excited to have friends and family to our house to laugh with and enjoy.

I’m excited to spend time in my community with my neighbors.

I’m excited to hold my little boy’s hand in the warmth of my glove when his gets cold.

I’ve even come to value the opportunity the spookier goings-on of Halloween affords us to face our deep rooted fears of mortality and to even poke a little fun at death. It could be that hidden beneath the ragged clothes and garish make-up of our zombie costumes is the universal hope that death doesn’t really have the last say over us…

And I’d be lying if I didn’t also say that I’m excited about finger and eyeball cookies.

Of course Paul reminds us that all things are permissible, though not everything is beneficial, and it’s true there is hardly a thing under the sun that we aren’t able to justify if we put our minds to it. Whether Halloween is permissible or even beneficial for you is ultimately a matter to be worked out in your own heart.

But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, with friends and family and costumes and candy this October 31st.


57 Comments

  1. Rebekka

    This is such a great post! I am familiar with environments where no holiday with pagan roots is celebrated…even Easter! (The goddess E. Star or something?)

    I love the truths that these days can be redeemed!

  2. Kaitlyn

    My eyes got a little bit misty at the end of reading this. Great post! I hope you have a great Halloween with your family! 🙂

  3. rick

    You devil-worshipper… I’ll be praying for you.

    Thought I’d get that out of the way since you were probably expecting it! Great post… I also grew up in a very legalistic church that pretty much taught Halloween = Satan. I’ve also (thankfully) come out the other side. It’s hard work to hate Halloween and harder still to witness to friends & family while berating them for having a little fun this time of year. (I dressed up as the “Joy-less Christian” every year.) I even — gasp — give out candy now. Uh oh, gotta run… think I feel flames licking at my heels…

  4. Sarah

    I love this post.

    Your line, “and slowly, ever so slowly, the bondage of fear began to break and the world was given back to me,” is spot on. It’s true, legalism and guilt steal away the very beauty that God made for us, made so that we could know the full glory of his soul.

    Madeleine L’Engle was one of my guilt-breakers, and it was mostly the breathless way she had of celebrating life, the way she wrote about God’s love being evident in nature, and celebration, feasts and people, that freed me to love God, as you said, proactively, instead of living in fear.

    This will be in my head all day. Thanks!

  5. Chad Ethridge

    Halloween, the one day of the year when non-Christians will walk up to your door and knock. What a great starting point for meeting your neighbors!

    Also, was wondering about any redeeming elements of the holiday like Peter Mayer’s song John’s Garden (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ael7p5KTJN0) where he describes what it must be like to be a jack-o-lantern. Your insides are removed, you are cut with a scalpel, you now need to warm yourself with a flame, you have to sit outside on the doorstep and watch kids parade by in costumes and, last of all, your life span is only for a few days? Yet, this also your chance to let your light shine before all men demonstrating that the old was removed and new life was given to you by someone else. After all a pumpkin cannot make himself into a jack-o-lantern! And when people are drawn to the glow, let them know the source.

  6. Kirsten

    I enjoyed this post so much I went and bought your new album. That is a bigger event than it sounds as a very tight budget has made such a thing about as commonly occurring as major holidays. I’ve excused the purchase as an observance of the coming of the Great Pumpkin.

  7. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Chad – I’m so glad you brought up this great song by Pete! Pete’s actually a friend of mine, a fellow Minnesotan. I used to go to all of his concerts and over time insinuated myself into his life, having him over to our house, going to his house and talking music. Songs of mine like “Grace” and “The Letter” are directly attributable to my time spent with Pete, who makes good use of a strong metaphor. John’s Garden is one of his best songs.

    And Kirsten, I’m honored – very kind of you. I hope you like it!

  8. Drew

    Great post, Jason. I didn’t even have to grow up in a legalistic environment to adopt a little legalism myself. I think it’s a temptation for any of us who desire to cling to the truth. We can quickly find ourselves drawing small circles, excluding anything that doesn’t meet our personal criteria for Godliness. But God has been teaching me to draw larger circles lately, even as my family and I are finding ourselves left outside the very small circles others draw.

    Thanks for this.

  9. Aaron Roughton

    Great post Jason. I have a friend who made a satirical radio news report about “Gospelween.” It showcases a neighborhood full of children all dressed as Jesus “truth or treating.” “Either be prepared to follow in the steps of the Master or hand out the candy!” I don’t know if he’d let me post it somewhere, but I’ll try. And seriously, those are very nice pumpkins. My standard 10 minute triangle face pumpkin needs a lot of work to measure up.

  10. Carol

    Thanks for sharing your journey. It is always good to hear how God works in the lives of others.

    My favorite line: “Whether Halloween is permissible or even beneficial for you is ultimately a matter to be worked out in your own heart.”

    Our family has chosen not to celebrate it as others do. It is not out of fear or legalism. It is out of us seeking God and working out in our hearts what we believe God wants for our family at this time.

    We do not judge others for how they choose to celebrate, yet we stand firm on what we believe is right for us. (Seriously, all my friends celebrate it to their hearts content!!) We try to approach it with a “matter of fact” attitude. It is just not something we celebrate. We are happy to talk more to anyone who asks, but we don’t make it a big deal.

    So, thanks for affirming that each part of the Body of Christ is unique. Ultimiately, through our individual relationships with Jesus, the Holy Spirit will continue to guide each of us – uniquely.

    Thanks!

  11. Alisa Childers

    This is such a well-written, humble and thorough observation of Halloween. I’m not even sure why, but I teared up toward the end. I relate to so many things you said from beginning to end, and I love it! I look forward to reading future posts. Wonderful. BTW, I used to work in a restaurant, and the waiters just LOVED it when they got gospel tracks instead of tips. :o)

  12. Sir Wilbur

    I gotta do it….put me in the NAY column.

    I love the thoughts and ideas in your article, but simply disagree with some of your conclusions.

  13. Stacy Grubb

    YES! I *do* know who I am and I’ve been in a long-standing battle with Halloween for years. I think it started brewing when I was a kid because my parents were staunchly against it. Us kids never once dressed up or went to a Halloween party or even a “Fall Festival” that was deemed a Halloween Party in disguise (heh heh…that’s funny if you think about it). Other than staying in enjoying the free preview of the Disney Channel and all their glorious Halloween specials (the animated version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow being my favorite to this day), Halloween was just another day, except that it served to kind of twist my understanding of what makes God happy and what doesn’t. I despised that we weren’t allowed to Trick Or Treat, but as I got older I wondered if my parents were right, after all.

    Thinking it all over, now, I could pose a few theories as to why my parents took such a rigid stance against Halloween. First of all, my dad is the type of fellow that approaches his passions with gusto and even obsession. When I was a child, faith was his obsession. We had rules, rules, and more rules and lots of restrictions. Plus, before their Salvation, my mom and dad spent years entertaining themselves by engaging in spirit-raising. That proved to be something that would follow them and consequently their family and their family’s families for years to come. It’s a situation in and of itself. So, I hypothesize that played a big role in Dad running full-force in the direction opposite of the one he’d previously ran. So now…I’m a mom with a son. He wants to go Trick Or Treating. Well, the truth is, I’ve celebrated Halloween since Elijah was born, but I did it knowing that it was more for me than for him. I wanted to participate in all the things I’d never been able to as a child and didn’t have the excuse to before having a child. But there’s been a little nag in my brain – maybe in my heart, too…I don’t know – that for all the justifications I’ve given myself, I’m still celebrating something that flies smack in the face of the God whom I love. As is the case with most things, I have this suspicion that the struggle lies predominantly within some mentally ingrained phobia of what someone else will think if they see me being controversial.

    As for this year: We’re celebrating Halloween at church with “Trunk Or Treat.” No tricks, just a trunk full of candy. The kids dress up either as animals or Biblical characters. Elijah wanted to be the Ark (being the true creative weirdo that he is), but for fear that he wouldn’t be able to run and play in my design idea, we’ve settled on David in his sling-toting days. I’m slightly disappointed as the plan has been to go as Tom and Jerry ever since we were Daphne and Scooby last year. I guess I’ll sit out another year of Halloween so that I’m not the only adult at church in costume. It’ll be a good time, though. Admittedly, I was uncomfortable talking to Dad last night about our Halloween plans.

    Can’t wait to discuss Santa.

    Baggage.

    Stacy

    Sorry, didn’t mean to post a response as long as the original entry. It’s just that I know so many words.

  14. Mari Battjes

    Jason, Love this post

    My parents never made it about worshiping the devil. And neither do I with my children. Just a fun time dressing up and visiting neighbors and of corse the candy. 😀 Although since Oct. 07 I have fought with mixed feelings about this day. Feeling bad because I don’t feel like other Christians on this. I have prayed for wisdom on this and I believe your post is the answer.
    I do have a new view on the pumpkins now thanks to Chads post .
    Awesome post Jason Thanks
    My you and yours enjoy this halloween.
    Be Blessed

  15. redhead.kate

    I too grew up with a legalistic background and have loosened up with age. But one of the freeing things for me has been allowing other people to make choices that are different than mine. My background says, “I can’t do something (insert particulars), and neither can you.” Now, I make different decisions about what I do or do not do. But on the things I don’t do, I’m more along the lines of, “I might not do that (insert particulars), but you can make your own choices about what you do, and I will not mentally condemn you for it.”

    p.s. I don’t do jack-o-lanterns or anything related to pumpkins at my house…but that is a result of “the disastrous night of the exploding pumpkin” 10 years ago in my 1st apartment. Trust me, it was horrendous!

  16. WordLily

    Hmm. While I appreciate your post, I’m at a different place. I’m pretty convinced my concern about Halloween does not stem from fear. While I gladly bear the role of co-sanctifier (among others), at Halloween I feel burdened, like physical weights press in on me; I might liken myself to a prophet. Oh, I’m not out on the streets preaching fire and brimstone, but rather speaking to the church, urging caution, urging discernment.

  17. Sue

    It is so cool to look at things thought the eyes of a child. This made me remember when my oldest son was two and he had just had his birthday. We went door to door and there were some pumpkins with candles in them. Well being that he just had his birthday a couple of week earlier I had a had time that night stopping him from blowing out all those candles. So Cute. He’s 25 now and that lovely memory is what Halloween is to me.

  18. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    You know, WordLily – I think this is necessary too. If I’m addressing legalists with my thoughts here, your sensitivities are more for those who participate in this time of year carelessly, thoughtlessly. So it’s kind of like we’re working together, maybe, coming from different sides of it.

    I was just thinking earlier today about the unrelated issue of having merchandise available after one of my concerts. From time to time I get the rebuke from well-intentioned believers who take issue of selling CDs in God’s house, given that Jesus turned over the tables of the money-changers, etc.

    Now I know that this is the wrong application of that scripture and that it’s a totally different situation, but it’s still something that I think about every time I put up the merch table. I wouldn’t even call it conviction, it’s maybe be a hangover from guilt, but it might not even be that. But it’s like a little tap on the shoulder of my heart, and I think through the truth of it again – checking my heart and convictions, come to peace with it, and proceed. I’m so grateful for this sensitivity, even though I think it’s unfounded. It’s not wrong to sell CDs after your concert in the narthex of the church, but there’s something about my asking the question over it everytime that I think protects me.

    Sometimes I’m on the road with bands that will have an ambitious merchandising person who jockeys for the best table position, etc. They’re aggressive, determined to sell merch, and obviously lack whatever that thing is that taps me on the shoulder of my heart and makes me wrestle with the issue every single night. And his (or her) drive feels unchecked and “icky” to me.

    Ultimately we’re doing the same thing and there’s little difference between their merch table and mine, but there’s one step in the process that I feel purifies my motives. My point is, I think each of us needs to do the hard work of thinking and praying through these things – perhaps over and over. And when someone hasn’t, there’s something about a perfectly acceptable thing that feels “off”. Does that make sense?

    I can tell when I’m in the presence of a Christian Halloweener who hasn’t done the hard work, and I’m grateful that your out there urging discernment.

  19. Carla

    Jason, thanks for the post. I have felt the same way about halloween since I had kids. Some legalistic Christians have probably judged me for it, and see me as not as “strong” or “committed” in Christ. I truly believe that it’s the motives in our hearts that determine whether something is pleasing or displeasing to God, like you mentioned (in your previous reply to a comment) about the merch tables.

    Parents should be more concerned about the very Adult costumes that are being marketed toward young girls. It makes me sad to see little girls dressed so scantily (often under a heavy coat, it’s freezing here!).

    But I digress. I appreciate you giving words to my thoughts. God bless you and your ministry.

  20. Lisa M

    Jason, GREAT post! I’ve struggled with this for years, and continue to struggle with it. We’ve never celebrated it with our kids, and while our church preaches Halloween as evil (some have gone to far as to call it the Devil’s birthday), I don’t agree with that stance at all. I love how you talked about co-sanctifier. After listening through your cd a number of times, God’s redemptive power is a thread I came to find in almost all your songs. I love it!
    Back to the Halloween thing. While our family doesn’t do the pumpkin/dress-up/trick or treat thing, I would like to pass out candy. My husband is not in agreement with me on this, so like your gracious wife, I have to sit by quietly (feeling like the ‘bad’ neighbor all the while) as I pray for him to receive the same revelation I have. Although after reading about that pumpkin song….awesome!! I would love to do that as an object lesson with my students. And your pumpkins look amazing! Is your whole family into Peanuts? Ours is kind of like that with Winnie-the-Pooh. Want to talk about non-holy Christmas trees? Ours is covered in Pooh ornaments top to bottom. Even a Pooh angel on the top. And yet, we celebrate the season as we remember Jesus’ birth (not Winnie the Pooh 😉

  21. WordLily

    Agreed, both perspectives are valid.

    Jason said: “I think each of us needs to do the hard work of thinking and praying through these things – perhaps over and over. And when someone hasn’t, there’s something about a perfectly acceptable thing that feels ‘off’.”

    I was talking with my husband about this at lunch (right before I came back and posted my initial comment, actually), and said something very much along these lines. I don’t think we should participate in all of the (American) Halloween traditions without having thought/worked/prayed through the implications/ramifications, etc. (Not that this pertains only to this subject, of course.)

  22. Josh

    Thank you so much for this post, Jason! Given my own background in the occult, I have had a fear/hatred of Halloween for many years. It has been nearly to the point of leaving me housebound for the past couple of years, in fact. This post has given me a great deal to think and pray about. Perhaps I will be able to find joy this weekend instead of terror. 😀

  23. Marit

    I find this discussion very interesting. I’m not from the US, so we never had any Halloween celebration when I grew up (neither did the neighbours). We leared about it in English lessons, by TV, and I got to experience it as an exchange student in the US.

    Now, we are adopting the Halloween holliday, maybe taking the worst parts of it. Most dress up in ghost/witches/… costumes. I think many of the US variants are more “family friendly”. And yes, there is discussions in the churches here, from why should we adopt an American holiday to “This is from the devil”. I did not know there where this same discussion in the US, and I will take with me these moments when I reflect about the holiday here.

  24. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Thanks for putting so much thought into this, Jason.

    If it makes you feel any better, I went through a similar phase early on in our marriage. I did the same thing with Christmas, to a lesser extent. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m glad I thought it through. But I’m over it now. Here at the Peterson house we’ll have lots of friends over, several pots of several different kinds of chili, bags and bags of candy, Charlie Brown playing in the family room, Asher as an alien cyborg, Aedan as Robin Hood, and Skye as an angel.

    My approach to Halloween is these three words: Do not fear. Don’t be afraid of your neighbors. Don’t be afraid of the economy, or socialism, or conservatism, rednecks, preachers, bankers, or teenagers. Don’t be afraid of ghouls or goblins. Don’t be afraid of Death. Jesus obliterated it. Don’t be afraid of the devil. You bear within you the Holy Spirit of God, and that means the devil fears you. And if you’re a Christian, for goodness’ sake, fear God but don’t be afraid of Him. Tremble in His presence, but run to him, not from him, for he rejoices over you with singing. We are his adopted sons and daughters, princes and priests in his Kingdom. Why should we not celebrate? Why should we not swagger when the darkness bares its teeth?

    Every soul on the sidewalk tomorrow night is someone to love.

    I, like Tony from Pandora, will be going as Jason Gray. Or Dwight Schrute.

    AP

    P.S. To those of you who see this issue differently, thanks for speaking up. I love that this is a place where we can think about these things unmolested.

  25. jia

    Jason, thanks for this post, it made me think.

    Like Marit, I’m not from the US and we don’t celebrate Halloween here but I was thinking about another festival we do celebrate in quite a big way, the Lunar New Year. There are very strange customs – do not sweep your house for all 14 days of the New Year or you’ll sweep out your luck (yes, seriously) – that we do not practice. One side of my family leans toward the more …social aspects of it – reunion dinner as a family, visiting relatives, exchanging oranges as a symbol of exchanging blessings and NOT wealth. And honouring God by going for New Year service. The other side are pre-believers, … uh I might have unknowingly eaten food sacrificed to idols – my parents explained the lunch invitation as “they had prayers today”. I really don’t know if it has or has not been sacrificed!! (In recent years, I have managed to evade going over for such lunches) The Bible says that that is not right (I freaked out) but also says it’s not what goes in that is unclean but what comes out (sort of relieved). As we are commanded to “be holy”, it is understandable of how easily it is to go down the path of legalism.

    About selling CDs, I’ve been wondering about Christianity, media and commercialism for some time. It’s been at the back of my head because I prefer “softer” music in the style by most Christian artists, and thinking about artists that “make music for everyone” = not explicitly Christian vs artists like yourself that make music for worship. Initial thoughts were that God uses people in different ways … thus the two styles, or is it that bands are afraid to be labelled Christian because of how it might affect album sales? Or Relevant Magazine – I know life is not separate from faith, but first thoughts were that the concept of it was strange. I think I’ve heard on two occasions that a rule of thumb was to go by conscience, if it feels uncomfortable, it is likely wrong. Thoughts?

  26. Sir Wilbur

    Thanks to you all for your deep thoughts on the matter. I sincerely appreciate your perspective and the spirit of this article/argument, though I feel I must speak.

    I have ZERO fear of Halloween, no fear of the make-believe witches and goblins and such. I do not fear having my home cursed or haunted as a result of participating in pagan practices.

    What I am, is loyal. I love the Mountaineers (even though we lost last night). I am passionate. Really. Do you think for one second you would see me at a Pitt pep rally? Not for ALL the money in the world. Never. No way Jose. Why would I want to be part of something designed to support what is anithetical to that which I love. Now we have all heard numerous retellings of how Halloween came to be, including those portrayed so eloquently by Mr. Gray. I am unable to say with clarity which explanation works best, but what I do know is that they are none of them good. We are not talking about Christmas, Thanksgiving, Resurection Day, Independence Day, etc. which all have special significance to us as Christians or Americans. We are talking about something that is at the very best somewhat sinister. Why support and give our approval to something that is FOR the other team?

    I have nothing against Muslims. I do not live in fear of them or thier beliefs. They need Christ like the rest of this world, and I value the concept of being co-sanctifiers. Beautiful thought! But, just because I am sanctified and sacred because of Jesus’ work, and I do not live in fear of terrorists, that does not make it OK to wrap a turban around my head and celebrate September 11th by throwing paper airplanes into lego buildings. That, like observing Halloween, would just be supporting the wrong side. That’s why I now stand against the “Christianizing” of Halloween.

    I reserve the right to change my mind!

  27. Paul H

    Thanks Jason for sharing this. Finding freedom, true freedom, is expectionally, well, freeing.

    Some folks have played up the evilness of Halloween in the past 30-40 years (or more), and there are historical facts based off of the whole “trick or treat” thing from the Druids. I have no problem with it and we have off and on let the kids go when they were younger and hand out candy at the door as well.

    I used think it was the big holiday for satanists, and why would I want to participate in that as a Child of the King??? I have come to realize, as well, that it is what you make of it. So it any other holiday or special occasion. Some pagans celebrate Christmas and see it as a way to get together as have family time. So I let Halloween be what it is just a day that could be fun for kids and neighbors or what we have here in some church parking lots is “Trunk or Treat”. My kids oare older so we don’t really get involved that much anymore, not for any reason other than it is no big deal to us.

    Just my two cents though, Paul spoke about this kinda thing in Romans 14. In verses 13 & 14 he wrote,
    “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
    I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”

    So, is Halloween the Big satanic holiday some legalists think it is? Well while in living Florida I actually worked with a satanist. We would talk about the bible and things(he really knew the bible too!)
    I happened to ask him, “So how important is this Halloween to folks like you?”
    He said, no it is just a fun day, nothing else. there is no black mass or special theme hinging on that day anymore. Some may make a point to have a meeting and get together, but it is not the Biggest day we have. The biggest holiday of the year, is one that everyone celebrates: To any true satanist it is your birthday because it is all about … …you.

  28. Susan

    Loved this post, Jason, and all the responses it provoked, especially AP’s. Thanks so much for sharing.

  29. Laura Droege

    Jason,
    Two parts of your post struck home with me.
    1) “it’s probable that my misguided attempts at taking a stand against Halloween, rooted in my own fear and self-righteousness, may have done more to distract myself and those around me from the more legitimate and potent works of the devil. One thing I do know for sure is that they didn’t do a thing to make the gospel look beautiful. They probably just made me and my faith look foolish.”

    A former pastor of mine used to post a message on the church sign: “Halloween is evil.” Everyone driving by the church got to read this during the month of October. It made me cringe. I didn’t want to tell people that I went to that church, much less invite them. I feared it would make ME look as fanatical as he was. I doubt it made the gospel look appealing to those who enjoy dressing up and eating gobs of candy.

    2) “because of this I wouldn’t let your mom get a Christmas tree either.” My legalistic grandfather would often not allow my mother and her siblings to have a Christmas tree, for similar reasons that you’ve described. Because of this, one of my aunts dislikes Christmas; it reminds her of all the arguments and tears that resulted when the children begged for a tree. It makes me incredibly sad that legalism led to my aunt not being able to enjoy a joyous season of celebrating Christ’s birth.

  30. Rob

    My first thought after reading this post:
    Everything sad is coming untrue.

    This post is a great example of that concept. Thanks Jason.

  31. Delisa White

    I so love all that you’ve said, Jason. But what I love as much, if not more, is what this scenario says about Taya’s character and our role as godly women. …”she said with a soft and gracious smile, remarkably without a note of accusation or contempt”; “I’m glad you hung in there with me.” The picture of Taya, as a young wife, submitting her preferences to those of her legalistic husband, trusting that God would honor her submission — how encouraging! What a testimony this is to all of us striving to do marriage God’s way.

  32. Mike

    I wish we could talk like this in our churches. I love the Rabbit Room and thanks Jason for sitting down with us a while.

  33. Sharon

    Back when my kids were little and we started celebrating Halloween, I felt uncomfortable with it. I didn’t go to a legalistic church. In fact, the church I went to had a “haunted house” one year. But I felt uneasy about Halloween because of its focus on fear and death. I knew, as has been stated so well here, that Jesus has conquered death and we don’t need to fear.

    What concerns me is not that this is “the devil’s holiday,” but that the whole emphasis makes light of serious subjects. If you haven’t been saved by Jesus’ death and His victory over death, then you *do* have something to be afraid of. I don’t think it’s humorous to have a fake graveyard with tombstones in your yard; I don’t think it’s fun to have pretend hauntings. I just don’t want to be a part of something that trivializes death and the spirit world. It seems to me that the celebration of Halloween with its “fun” depictions of witches, ghosts, haunted houses, etc., is helping to perpetuate the denial that there is a real spiritual realm.

    I also want to fill my mind and life, and my children’s, with what is good and true and pure. In my Christian walk, I have tried to participate in what I feel I can–and not be so separate that I have no witness. So we participated, as far as we could, but they never wore spooky costumes, and I never decorated with witches, black cats, skeletons, etc. We focused on fun, positive activities—trying to come up with unique costumes (two years in a row, my son won the “best costume award” at his elementary school), trick or treating, passing out candy, carving pumpkins, etc.

    On the subject of the pagan roots of holidays, I don’t feel that we are “Christianizing” these days; rather giving them back to Who they truly belong to. I believe we can celebrate, with thankfulness, the childhood fun of one day a year getting to dress up and get lots of candy. And, as many have said, seize the opportunity to connect with our neighbors. But I really hate the darker aspect of Halloween and want to celebrate the truth and the light.

    Jason, I appreciate your well thought-out and well-written post, and the other post-ers who have shared their insights.

  34. Robert Treskillard

    Jason,

    Even though I didn’t grow up in the church, it’s interesting how much the first years with my wife mirror yours. One of our first Christmases we had a “Christmas Chain” that we hung a few ornaments on and Christmas cards. That was it.

    By the time my daughter was born, I softened and we got a tree. I have since really come to appreciate “pagan” traditions that have been redeemed. Each year we go to a “Boar’s Head Festival” where this is very evident, and I am amazed at God’s redeeming power.

    I must admit, though, that we still don’t celebrate Halloween. Thankfully we live out in the country where no kids come by, so no one sees any stinginess.

    However, I don’t have a problem with others celebrating it, like you say, with thankfulness.

    God’s blessings on you and your family, Jason! Thanks for the post, and the trip down memory lane!

    -Robert

  35. Stacey

    Amen! I think it is far more pleasing to Satan when Christians turn a cold shoulder to the “world” and close ourselves off in our religious circles rather than using this celebration to be a part of our community. When we do the traditional fun things halloween inspires and participate in fun we bring the light of Christ to the world through relationships and shared experiences. This hijacks a so called devil’s holiday and uses it to bring glory to God.

  36. Trice

    My denomination always had Reformation Day parties on October 31st instead, in celebration of Luther posting his 95 Theses on the door at Wittenberg on that day in 1517 (had to look up the year!).

    Having studied a small bit of Celtic mythology over the years, I must admit I’m not exactly enthusiastic about a number of the holidays we have named Christian… but then again, even some of the Celtic symbolism seems to reflect the kind of language used to describe Christ… I find myself at present, as with lots of other things, a bit on the fence. When I was a kid we did dress up and go trick or treating. Now I just kind of avoid it, which is easy at the moment, living abroad. Here it is an issue among believers whether to celebrate holidays that call for a show of worshiping their ancestors – they struggle with how to honor their parents, who expect them to carry out this traditional responsibility, and yet how to follow the Lord in all things.

    There is much said about not changing cultures, but rather redeeming cultures… I think this is a right attitude, but sometimes I do think that calls for parts of the culture to be set aside, and I still wonder if Halloween should be one of these things.

    Really loving the graciousness and deep thinking of the posts here.
    Blessings in Him

  37. Trice

    P.S. Love Peter Mayer’s music too; this discussion also reminded me of his song Holy Now… still thinking/praying about how that applies.

  38. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Trice – “Holy Now” is one of Pete’s best!! Love that song. The last time I hung out with Pete, he was still an Unitarian Universalist, which is disappointing to me. His earlier songs still reflect what seems like the last vestiges of his Christian faith still hanging on, and songs like “Holy Now” could go either way – you can either read it as Christian or as Unitarian. But it was his subsequent records that seemed to increasingly reflect his U.U. ideologies. But he’s a good man, very kind, and exceedingly gifted. I recommend his earlier records, including his Bountiful and Million Year Mind that features the song about Jack-o-lanterns, “John’s Garden”, and “Holy Now.”

    And thanks to everyone for letting me share my experience here and being so civil about what could easily degrade into a polarizing argument. I believe the Lord is pleased when his children play so nice together 😉

    Wonderful comments here, I’m honored that you all have taken the time to weigh in on my little story. I sincerely hope that it came across as my journey and not as a judgmental diatribe against those who feel differently about Halloween. God bless you!

    Alright, I’m packing to go on a little vacation with my kids for the next several days…

  39. Jeff Cruz

    I love this article and agree with it all. I have not been so passionately against halloween, but work in Christian radio and have been surrounded by a culture where the very word itself is considered worse/more controversial than the F-bomb! It is amazing how silly I see people and churches get about it all. Thanks Jason, for taking the time to share this.

    I am with Stacy Grubb….

    I can not wait to discuss Santa Claus!

    🙂

  40. Jeff Schinella

    Wow…what in the world made you mention, let alone put up a picture of the Asakusa shrine? Seriously, I’m in Japan and just got back from there less than 12 hours ago. Your post really spoke to me concerning my fears…Arigatoo!

  41. Shelley Richmond

    Here’s a potential curve ball to a discussion that is charged with igniting energy, and most, if not all of it, incarnational. The Lord gave me the blessing of being born on October 31st, which has harvested for me a wide range of experience in my 30 (or so) years. Previous posts, including Jason’s laid-back manifesto, reveal how we are all striving, so ungracefully at times (whether too strict or too full of cheap grace) , toward a balance in our lives that shows ‘the world’ Christ alive in us. I remember back in high school, being targeted by a local coven who ‘chose’ me because they pointedly informed me that I had ‘special powers from Satan’ because of my birthday. Crazy. Later on in college, I was being ministered too by an organ of the Body of Christ that works with people coming out of, or having been harmed, by the occult. One guy had been a high level Satanist, up to a 30 degree mason amongst other things. Once redeemed by Jesus Christ, he worked to minister to disciple new believers. He told a story that goes somewhat like this: One normal, pleasant day he heard a knock on his door. Upon opening it, he encountered the highest ranked Wicca witch in his town. She proceeded to curse him and foretell of his up and coming death. He said, “Well, sorry to break your momentum but I’m already dead.” She stood there, speechless. He went on to explain that he died the day he accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour, King, and Lord and that it was only Jesus alive in him that gave him the grace to wake up every morning. She left, and he was never really bothered again.

    So, I’ll echo “Do not Fear” and remember, “I am no longer alive but it is Christ alive within me.”

  42. Suzanne

    Thank you for your post. As a mom of 3 children, I was saddened that some of my friends would make me feel small or “un-Christian-like” because my husband and I allowed our kids to participate in Halloween. It has been such a fun event for our family as well as for our little town that crowds the streets with their own families including their dogs! Your post was the most thought-out response to this annual event and I plan to link this to my blog. Thank you again for your insights and your background information on this topic.

  43. Margaret

    Wow! What a great post, thanks for sharing this. I’ve always felt so guilty about allowing my children to participate to the point that I sent them out with others, I wouldn’t go myself. I love your perspective and how you support it biblically. I too get caught up in the legalistic nature of today’s churches so this was like a breathe of fresh air!

  44. Cheryl

    Thank you so much! You said something I have always believed in my heart but have been unable to put into words! God bless!

  45. jia

    *timidly raises hand* okay about RELEVANT magazine, have to admit that I’ve only been to their website previously. I go to the page for the first time, and I see a link to an article about one of favourite indie bands, but someone on the same page there’s a link to an article on Christian walk. It’s kind of weird at first.

    I just found that you can read the digital edition of their magazine online! Which is pretty much what I spent the last hour doing. This month they have articles on drinking (permissible) and Christmas traditions (borrowed roots) which are points to think about for the coming holiday season. That said, my mind has been occupied with thinking about legalism, grace, and reconciling the two (which I haven’t yet been able to do). Hm. The book of Ephesians is an interesting and relevant read wrt to this.

  46. Corey Beebe

    Not to be redundant or anything but, great post. 🙂 I love Halloween, but I like to remind my friends when they talk about going to haunted houses and stuff that I have a “Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin sort of Halloween” and I don’t do the scary stuff. There’s enough in this world for me to be afraid of without needing to induce the fear. I could go off into how I think crap like that gets our fight or flight response all confused and may desensitize us to things that we actually need to fight or flee from…but I won’t. 🙂

    I wish we could have been there for your Halloween party!

    Happy harvest season!

  47. Phil Calendine

    Jason,

    I never had to bear the burden of fear of Halloween in the way you so well describe, but I know of many who have. I was so encouraged by the words of truth spoken through you in this–John 10:10 is verse really driven home in my life, inspired a lot by John Eldridge (though he has some anti-church beliefs I disagree with)…the thief comes to steal and destroy, but Christ came so we can have life, and life to the full…you summarized that in this and I appreciate it greatly.

  48. Aaron

    I, like others here, have not necessarily reached the same conclusions as Jason, but very much appreciate how you have arrived there and respect you for your treatment on the subject. I think from someone with your kind of background, the realization for instance, that “carving a face in the flesh of a pumpkin” does not make you a pagan is very important. It is a joyous thing that, like Paul, you’ve seen that nothing is “unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14), “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (verse 17). What we see from Scripture is that the “thing” itself is not evil or ruinous to your soul, but rather you’re conscience. For you, it was certainly a sin to carve pumpkins in the past because if you did carve them, it would not be from faith and your conscience would be vexed. The liberty that comes with the knowledge of Christ has freed you so that you can carve pumpkins with all joy in Christ. Praise God and Amen! In this way “sin” as we understand it is not so black and white.

    However, as an important sidenote, everything in the Christian life is not the same as pumpkins and meat with blood in it. So we should be careful about making statements like, “Your conviction about stuff is yours and mine is mine.” Concerning food and drink, of course; but if we’re talking about pornography or lying through your teeth, not so much. Legalism is not abiding by rules…legalism is creating your own and rigidly enforcing them as God’s. It has taken me awhile to understand this and I still fail to rest in it.

    I also like what you said about being co-creators/co-redeemers. Although we don’t exert quite the energy for it as Halloweeners (?), we make note to remember Reformation Day, which is also October 31st. The history of the Christian faith is often overlooked for the here-and-now believers of today, but we find enjoyment and blessing in reflecting on the works of Luther, Calvin and others who led the way for liberty and freedom from the bondage of Roman Catholic Church at the time.

    My concerns about participating in Halloween are ultimately more practical than theological (safety for my kids, food poison, bullies, etc. etc.), but I regret that we didn’t get a chance to carve up some pumpkins…next year we’re gonna be all over that!

  49. Anita

    My family has actually become stricter on Halloween as time went on. When we were young, my parents would take us out Trick-or-treating as Bible characters or pets or zoo animals, but then my parents began to have some concerns about the holiday, which were largely safety issues. We still sometimes drop by the church’s Fall Fest, but it’s been a long time since we trick-or-treated, and since we’re gone in the evening at church we’re not around to do our old cross-o’-lantern tradition or hand or seasonally themed tracts in packets of candy to the kids coming by. (Does it make it more pardonably to hand or tracts if you include the candy with them? 😉 )

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *