Yes, it’s okay for Christians to celebrate Halloween.
These days the occasion has mostly become Fan-o-ween anyway. Kids and grown-ups alike can feast and celebrate stories, scary ones and otherwise. Some people may be tempted to indulge in occult activities, and yet most Christians really aren’t. Being “offended” or fearful is not the same as actual temptation to you personally.
Even after I’ve spent many years of spiritual maturing, Gospel-embracing, and legalism-hatred, Halloween still makes me nervous.
I don’t mean the candy-and-costumes part. I don’t even mean the emphasis on scary story tropes and creatures. After all, horror is a story genre that can prove redemptive. This is especially true when authors use horror to truly illustrate the horror of man’s condition apart from Christ—or the horror of evil spiritual realities apart from Christ.
Instead I’m thinking of two ways Halloween bothers me. These two particular methods are very different. But people (or the Devil, or somebody) have found a way to do both at once.
1. People wrongly make light of the darkness.
Christians are set free from bondage to sin and Satan. We can celebrate this freedom.1 In one sense, even as we guard against Satan and his lies, we can even laugh at the Devil’s attempts to scare us:
The gospel reveals that much of the fear that Satan excited in men prior to the advent of Christ resulted merely from the exaggerated shadows that he cast in the darkness. Now that light has come the shadows are removed and Satan is reduced to a far less terrifying stature. We can begin to laugh at the shapes that we once saw in the shadows.2
Non-Christians can’t do this because they don’t have the Christian’s freedom.
But with much of today’s Halloween celebration, they try anyway. They make decorations and movies based on terrifying creatures: zombies, spiders, wraiths, and the gravestones and skeletons. (Always the gravestones and skeletons—as if the very concept of dying, rotting away, and leaving nothing behind but a grinning set of remains isn’t terrible.)
People try to laugh at death. They try to make light of the darkness.
However, non-Christians have no cause to laugh. For anyone outside Christ, death and darkness are the greatest true fears. Without Him, we’ll end up nothing but headstones and skeletons at best. That’s not hilarious. It’s seriously terrifying. Mocking these truths is just as absurd and self-destroying as mocking the train speeding at you while you are tied to the tracks.
It’s not the laughter of a warrior who’s truly victorious over darkness and death.
It’s a laughter more like the Joker right before the amusement park explodes.
2. People exchange real light for ghoulish darkness.
Even as Halloween celebrations and decorations make light of serious terrors, these things can also cast glorious, beautiful truths as if they are horrific evils.
Picture the same decorative emphases on zombies, tombstones, skeletons, and ghosts. All of these are symbols of one Halloween idea: “the dead come back to life.”
In every instance, we’re led to conclude—not with thoughts, but with assumptions and feelings—that coming back from death is a terrible thing. If you do, you’ll be a skeleton. A zombie. You won’t be alive, but “undead.”
Taken by itself, this is a very real terror. If by some mystical or scientific means, people did return from the dead, that would be terrifying. Even worse, imagine if the body had already decomposed or if you were reduced to an animated skeleton or shambling corpse.
Now look what happens at the holiday opposite from Halloween: Easter, or Resurrection Sunday. Halloween occurs at fall, just before the world enters a season of decay leading to death. But on Easter Sunday at spring, heralding the season of new life, we celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. He did not merely become “undead.” He defeated death itself and was raised to life, the selfsame Person he was before he surrendered his life.
Yet in response to this truth, non-Christians mock the idea of Jesus’s resurrection. What do they say about him?
They can’t help but use Halloween imagery. They say, “ha ha, zombie Jesus.”
They assume the notion they’ve absorbed from horror tropes: that if you come back from the dead, it can’t be anything good. It’s terrible. It’s dark, evil, perverted.
All at once, the beautiful truth of the resurrection becomes a terrible fright.
The glorious promise Jesus and the apostles proclaimed, of real and permanent miraculous return from death to live forever in His kingdom, becomes a freak of magic or science.
Saints’ new Spirit-powered bodies 3 pulsing with divine light are mutated into corpses of rotting flesh.
Even the initialed, subtle promise of resurrection emblazoned on tombstones gets turned into a scary set of letters. Instead of “Rest in peace,” we get “RIP,” like the verb rip. Three of the most light-bringing words in the language are exchanged for a threat of darkness.
What then of Halloween?
We didn’t distribute candy to trick-or-treaters this year. That was a fluke; I forgot to buy candy. We won’t revert to a posture of legalism or fear against any holiday. Unlike our non-Christian friends, we can laugh at the darkness—and also help redeem the dark stuff.
In years to come, I may push back against people’s ingrained habits to try making light of darkness. I may question whether we exchange real light—the hope of resurrection—for dark perversions of the concept, such as zombies and animate skeletons.
If anything, we simply need to ask these questions. For any holiday we celebrate, we should understand why we’re decorating and feasting and enjoying any other tradition.
So for Halloween, we might reasonably ask, “Can I put in my yard this plastic tombstone with ‘RIP’ ironically, or is there some part of me that suspects resurrection would be terrible?” Or, “Am I making light of death and horror because I’m strong in Christ and know that death has no ultimate power over me? Or am I trying to laugh away the real ghouls of evil that I suspect are still lurking out there in the world, ready to attack me any second?”
Don’t feast and celebrate at Halloween with any forced laughter at undefeated death. And don’t let suspicion of beautiful, miraculous Resurrection creep in either. Instead, recall the holiday’s roots: not to celebrate death, but celebrate the saints—saints who won’t return as undead ghouls, but as risen, glorified family and friends.
- This also means we’re bondservants to Jesus (1 Corinthians 7:22). He did not set us free for “freedom’s” sake. He loves us too much for that. Instead He sets us free for His sake, so that in living in service to Him we get the best pleasure in existence. ↩
- Of Boggarts, Alistair Adversaria, July 24, 2007. Quoted in “Casting The ‘Riddikulus’ Spell On Halloween,” E. Stephen Burnett at Speculative Faith, Oct. 27, 2010. ↩
- See 1 Corinthians 15. In verses 44-45, the apostle Paul says our new bodies will be “spiritual,” unlike our old bodies that were “natural.” Paul is not saying our new bodies will be ghost-like or non-material. He means that our new bodies will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. ↩