Halloween: How should Christians Respond?

It’s Halloween. My local library, of which I’m a regular patron, has suspended black paper bats on wire, positioned gravestones with glowing reds eyes and placed a large life-sized skeleton facing the entrance, greeting book-worms with surprisingly loud groans when a button is pressed. I’m only too pleased that the hard-pressed librarians have the leisure to erect such displays.

Halloween, however, offers me a problem: I'm not sure how to respond to it. There seems to be a number of options.

Number 1. See it as a festival of Satan and call all-night prayer meetings to hamper demonic activity in your locality. Doreen Irvine’s book From Witchcraft to Christ certainly indicates that late October was a busy time for occultic folk. The problem with this approach is that it gives Halloween a significance that it doesn’t deserve. By proclaiming its power, we promote it. The owners of sex shops in the 1980s were known to urge local newspaper reporters to ask Mary Whitehouse for a quote or two about how inappropriate they were. The seedy proprietors knew that something Whitehouse condemned would increase their revenue because of the free advertising she offered. Are we doing the same with Halloween? And do we not realise that Satan is active every day of the year?

Number 2. Quietly ignore it and replace it. A church nearby is having a Reformation Party, commemorating Luther’s break with Rome which also began on 31st October. Other churches offer ‘light parties’, encouraging their children to dress as Bible characters or angels. Here’s the fun of Halloween retained, moulded into a godly shape. It also more closely resembles the American version of the festival, in which all sorts of costumes are worn, including superheroes and celebrities.

A third response is to embrace it. Re-claim it. If our Halloween was more akin to Mexico’s Day of the Dead, it would do the average Englishman a great deal of good to reflect upon his mortality. Alternatively, it’s worth remembering that it was originally a church festival- the Eve of All Hallows. A hallow was a saint (think of holy, or ‘hallowed by Thy Name’) and the 1st of November was the day on which all saints were honoured. The day before is its eve, and medieval folk assumed that evil forces would have one last night of frenetic activity before the sanctity of the morrow restrained them.

Now the original Catholic understanding of All Saints’ Day is unacceptable to me; by praying to ‘all saints’ on their day, one might borrow more of their spare merit through which one’s stay in purgatory might be reduced. No thank you. But what about celebrating the likes of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Lloyd Jones, Wycliffe and Amy Carmichael? Why not claim it back? Or those humbler saints with whom we grew up but have now passed into glory, such as Jennie Parker, Joyce Passmore, Jeff Jones, Ken Leech? Well I suspect we’d eventually end up honouring them too much. And in any event, All Saints’ Day is not the problem, it’s what goes before it. We’d have to move All Hallows back a day; eventually, Halloween would simply be re-made on 30th October. 

I’m currently inclined to ignore it. Personally, I find worldly celebrations of Christmas just as obnoxious; that our Saviour’s incarnation should be marked by greed, waste, gluttony and drunkenness is far more frightening than the skeleton my library is currently displaying.