All Hallows Eve

With Halloween upon us, Christians everywhere are faced with the choice about whether or not to partake in this annual holiday. Some will choose not to do anything even remotely related to it, while others may opt for more limited participation. A couple of weeks ago this issue arose in my small group, and so we talked about it this past weekend.

Halloween’s pagan origins are pretty much undisputed, and can be traced as far back as the time of the Celts and the festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow en”), a three-day annual event from October 31 to November 2 set aside to celebrate the harvest and the onset of winter. The Celts believed that the spirits of the dead were able to interact with the living during that time, which naturally gave rise to all kinds of various superstitions.

Some of the remnants of these superstitions are still around today. For example, the practice of dressing up in a costume came from the idea that humans could deceive evil spirits into leaving them alone if they looked like one of them. The popular jack-o-lantern arose from a similar idea. People believed that by carving a grotesque face into a pumpkin and illuminating it with a candle that the evil spirits would be frightened away and not bother them. Even the practice of trick-or-treating came from these superstitious thoughts. The Celts believed that the spirits of the deceased would be stuck on earth unless they were sent off to the afterlife in a proper manner. Thus, these spirits would be “treated” with food, money, or something else of value, and those that were not would “trick” those who had ignored them.

As Christianity spread across Europe and collided with these pagan ideas, converts often found it difficult to abandon their customs due to the influence of the culture around them. To solve this problem, the church, under Pope Gregory IV, came up with an ingenious way to directly challenge these traditions by moving a Christian holiday near a pagan one.

In this case, the holiday was All Saints Day. Originally celebrated in May as a day of remembrance for Christian martyrs, it was also known as All Hallows or even Hallowmas. The word “hallows” comes from a Greek word which means “holy,” like in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Mt 6:9). A closely related Greek word is often rendered as “saints,” like in Romans 1:7.

The church took All Hallows and moved it from May to November 1, its current date, right in the middle of the Samhain festival, and October 31 became known as All Hallows Eve. Over the years the phrase was shortened into what we know it as now: Halloween.

As superstition gave way to enlightenment, Halloween became a time of revelry, characterized by young people going house to house collecting food and drink for their parties and playing “tricks” on stingy homeowners who refused to give them anything. Eventually, Halloween spread to America in the late nineteenth century by immigrants from England. Despite the superstitions that surrounded it, most people were attracted to the aforementioned mischievous aspects of the holiday and began adopting customs from it without reference to its pagan origins. Thus today, Halloween is largely an American, secular holiday, and has become highly commercialized, raking in over three billion dollars a year in sales.

As a child, my parents let us participate in Halloween. For me, dressing up in a costume was the one chance out of the year that I could pretend to be somebody else and have fun doing it: One year our entire family went as the Smurfs; during the 2000 presidential election I went as George Bush while my friend went as Al Gore; and last year, my wife and I went to a small gathering with our family and dressed up as bacon and eggs. I will let you guess who was who.

Admittedly, it was also fun to go around trick-or-treating. The biggest fears we had were not from evil spirits, but from some malicious person who might poison our candy. So my parents always inspected every piece that we brought home, and they tried to limit our consumption as well.

I remember going to spook houses (haunted houses) with my dad and being scared. As I got older, I started going with my friends. Eventually I grew out of that when they ceased to frighten me and spending $10 for admission seemed like a waste of money more than anything else.

Overall, I never looked at Halloween as anything satanic, and I never saw any inherent evil in these things. However, as I have gotten older, Halloween has helped remind me that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . .  the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). I can turn on the news and see that there is evil in the world, but Halloween is a visible reminder that that evil is not some impersonal force, but the active, concerted effort of the devil and his fallen angels.

Some Christians, like me, see no harm in participating in Halloween, while others will choose not to participate at all. “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Ro 14:5). So regardless of these different feelings about Halloween, it should be a time when all believers shine the light of the gospel into the darkness around us.

Ultimately, the world is not going to know that we are Christians based on whether or not we dress up in silly costumes or pass out candy to little kids in the neighborhood. They will know we are His if we have love for one another (Jn 13:35). If we do this, then All Hallows Eve may be just what its name implies.


  1. Darren, I appreciate this article and your sensible, balanced perspective. As I was driving to DC early this morning, I was listening to a Christian radio program and heard a pastor give an analysis very similar to yours. The pagan origins of Halloween are well known but hardly relevant. (The origin of Christmas Day has pagan elements too.) What matters is the cultural meaning today. I have lived in the United States all my life and have not yet met a single person who uses the occasion to engage in demon worship or occult practice. If I ever meet anyone who does, I will take a stand against it. Until then, I will not tell the children in my neighborhood that they can’t dress up in costumes and go door to door to get treats from people. In my town, it’s actually a great chance to go with them and meet the neighbors. It’s a community event, and a rather fun one.

    • Darren Gruett

      Halloween does afford a rare opportunity to meet so many people in our neighborhoods to whom we might otherwise never talk.

  2. Good article Darren. I agree wholeheartedly. In fact I wish I could wear my ninja turtle mask every day!

    • You were a ninja turtle? Dang! This Halloween I was a research statistician. Very scary.

    • I hear you, Joe. This Halloween my costume was an over-worked father of three daughters who is running around here and there doing many things but who primarily needs to spend more time being a father for his little girls.
      Fortunately, this costume is coming off after Halloween. :)

    • Darren Gruett

      John, very soon I will know what that is like. We are expecting a little girl next March, so I will be putting on my “dad costume” for the first time. That could be a scary thing.

  3. Oh no this year I wasn’t able to wear the Michaelangelo turtle mask because my wife hid it. Good thing I had an extra killer clown mask in the front closet! Then she wished whe had just given me the turtle mask.

  4. THank you Darret. This is definitely an issue I have to consider every year myself. For my wife and I, we definitely do not approve of dressing up in anything occultish or demonic. At the same time, I think we try to remember the Saints and remember that All Hallows eve is not about dressing up.
    The one thing that bothers me more than monster costumes is the “sexy” costumes that women put on.

  5. Thanks, Darren, John Piper’s perspective is similar I think:
    Not growing up in the US and not experiencing Halloween in my youth, I am totally neutral about it. I’m just embarrassed if people show up and I have nothing to give them. So I pretend I’m not home on Halloween. Me bad.

    • Darren Gruett

      My wife is kind of like you, since she did not grow up with Halloween in Venezuela. She sees it as something silly, dressing up in a costume just to get free candy when parents can just go out and buy it for their kids.