Can Christians Celebrate Halloween?
Bit of a different one since today is the spookiest day of spooky season. Rather than focusing on a show, graphic novel or video game… I want to talk about Halloween in general. Can Christians celebrate Halloween? It’s a season that has become culturally synonymous with cosplay, horror flicks, and warning people about folks hiding the Legend of Zelda water temple in the candy they are giving out that night. But what do we actually believe about the holiday and how should we celebrate it as Christians?
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Acts 17:18-23 (NRSV)
Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new. Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
So, to keep this video brief and straightforward - let’s talk first about what we mean when we say Halloween
Halloween is a lot of things to a lot of people. Nearly every notable culture has it’s own interpretation of the season we’re in. It may or may not fall on Oct 31, but it all centers around the marking of time between the seasons and the weather
The term Halloween itself is Christian in it’s roots - the word being a shortening of the Evening of Hallows or the Hallowed. Hallowed means holy - or saintly. So, back in the day when the Hebrew people interpreted days as beginning with night and leading into day (yes, really, go check Genesis again it was evening and then day, the first day of creation)... anyway - November 1 is All Saints Day, when the church would host services honoring the lives of the Saints. So Halloween was the Evening of the Hallows before the celebration of those Hallowed Lives. Then Nov 2 would be All Souls Day, where the rest of those who have died would be honored.
So what about the costumes? The candy? Jason Voorhees?
All of that good stuff is fluff and pomp on top of the cultural concoction that has become the modern Halloween - and let’s acknowledge that I am trying to suggest that these cultures are all adaptations of the Christian holiday necessarily. Whether we entered the fray first or not is beside the point - we’re a cultural melting pot of everything from Dia De Los Muertos and the mind of Wes Craven.
So with all that said - Halloween has its roots in Christian tradition, sure. But we need to acknowledge that what it has become through the commercialization and cultural melting pot that is modern culture is a far cry from any of the original intention.
Case in point - who is planning on rushing to an All-Saints Service tomorrow? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the minority of folks have this in mind. Maybe you’ll light some candles in church this morning or next week, but that’s probably the end of it.
So - to be clear - I am not talking about the Christian Halloween, nor am I talking about the Pagan Halloween, or whatever more specific thing you might be thinking of. When I refer to Halloween, I’m talking about ALL of it.
Keeping that in mind, when it comes to broad cultural swaths, we have three real choices:
Reject, Accept, or Redeem
We have these options and it’s fair to choose any of them - I have my choice figured out, but it’s a subjective thing at the end of the day. How you choose to respond may vary depending on your background, your culture, your opinions - mileage may vary.
So which option should you choose? Well, in order to understand them, let’s break them down.
We can reject something by just outright refusing to acknowledge it. We can even go against it and speak out - we need to keep in mind our mission here at Checkpoint to do good, do no harm and strive to grow in this act of calling out here, but that’s still an option.
Or we can accept it and live into it - keeping it kind of separate in our lives, but not seeing any direct harm in an active participation. This is a fine option and - if you can manage to avoid harming yourself or others - this is very much a valid thing to do.
Finally, we could also choose to redeem it - this is probably the most complex one. It’s kind of a both/and response. We reject it as it is, we accept what it could be, and we help see what God is doing in and through this thing.
But what if the answer isn’t just one of these - it’s actually all three, in the right order.
To better understand how this might be done, let’s look at Paul’s example in our scripture
Our scripture for this video comes from the book of Acts, which is kind of like the second volume of the gospel of Luke, where the gospel writer continues on the journey of the early church after Jesus ascends in the gospel story.
Acts follows many of the early leaders we know and love like Peter, Paul, and the gang.
In this passage, we are getting a look at Paul’s life outside of the writing of Paul through his various epistles like Corinthians, Ephesians, etc.
Paul is in Athens and sees these idols all over the place - so he starts to ask around and try and reason why these statues of gods are everywhere. He gets the attention of the philosophers and leaders of Greece and they call him up in front of the class to explain what in the world he is talking about
They call him to Areopagus, which is this majestic court where they held philosophical discussions and trials.
Paul goes to the court and delivers a particularly powerful sermon about God - starting with an acknowledgement of this monument in town marked to an unknown god.
Paul then goes into this dissertation on the God who can be known. Idols are representations of gods who are far from the people here on earth, gods who are distant, separate, and unfeeling. But Paul presents a God who is personal, close, and capable of being found. A far cry from the unknown god.
What is important in this process is how Paul goes about this encounter. Paul discovers confusion and bad apples - the idols are signs of folks who are confused about who God really is. They aren’t evil or hateful. The people of Athens aren’t running from God or spitting in God’s face - they just haven’t landed on the real God behind the gods.
Paul acknowledges this - the people of Athens are, in fact, very religious.
So Paul goes about and makes personal relationships one by one. He goes to the marketplace and asks questions. He learns. He cares. He grows in connection with the people of Athens.
After growing in connection, Paul is then invited into a place to talk further about his understanding of God. And he does this peacefully and with grace - he uses language that the Athenian folks would understand. He acknowledge their religiosity. He meets them where they are and then presents the God that he knows to them.
And guess what? Some don’t agree and sneer at his words - others are changed by those same words. And Paul accepts this and moves forward from there with peace and love.
So, let’s bring that back to Halloween and how we celebrate it - it starts by having a relationship with God, which the name Christian hopefully implies, since the question we’re addressing is Can Christians Celebrate Halloween?
As Christians, we must first and foremost discern what is going on - Paul says he studied the idols in his sermon. He wanted to know where and how God was present in them. He found the true God in the unknown God.
Then what do we do? We enter community with people. This is where things typically go wrong. In the appropriate order between reject, accept, redeem, we must first accept if we want to make any progress towards redemption.
Be with the community. That’s what we’re doing on Twitch - if you find us on YouTube first, that’s great, but our goal at Checkpoint first and foremost is to play video games with you via streaming. We want that to be our main way that we meet folks and get to know them as fellow gamers, nerds, and geeks.
Then we wait until we’re invited into conversation for real change to be made - we can ask questions and state our beliefs here and there, but we shouldn’t jump the gun. Wait until we’re invited to share.
Then, when we’re given the chance we can enter into the reject stage of things, but this stage is like a flash of lightning, it should be gone and quickly as possible - reject the shortcomings you have found during your discernment and then immediately move on to the good news of the gospel found in the redemption.
Present the goodness of God in these things - it is good for us to learn and grow as people from the lessons we learned last week in Midnight Mass. That’s not just Mike Flanagan’s excerpt writing, that’s God. It’s good for us to see the better way that Jesus offers through the screwups of the elites in Squid Game two weeks ago. It’s not just the death game genre that taught us that, that’s God. Present the God within these things.
God is, has been, and always will be present through the creative work of human hands - this is fleshed out better in our video on if Christians can watch anime.
Once we acknowledge God’s presence in these things, the question moves from Can Christians Celebrate Halloween to How Christians Celebrate God Through Halloween - it’s not a yes or a no at the end of the day, it’s a how - and it all depends on if we make that first step to allowing God into these things in the first place
As always, the process begins with you. Can Christians Celebrate Halloween? Of course, how absurd a question - God is present in all things. Will we let Halloween celebrate God? Now, that’s a tough one. If you want to explore God in pop culture, we’re always wrestling with that and you’re invited to wrestle right there with us at Checkpoint Church.
So, whether you’re spooky, scary, or a skeleton, know that you’re always welcome here.
But, if you’re a fan of Final Destination and that whole horrible genre, I’m going to make sure we’re never alone in a room together, sorry not sorry
Question: What’s your favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?
I was Barney when I was like three or four and I had a tail and honestly, since watching DBZ, all I’ve ever wanted is a functional tail, so that’s pretty much as good as it gets.
God loves you. We love you. You matter.
Until next time,