Trick or Treat: How Should Parents Respond to Halloween?

by Steve Russo

Each year many parents, especially those with small children, face the dilemma of what to do with Halloween. Many Christians wrestle with celebrating this holiday because of its presumed connections with the occult. However, since it's such a popular holiday in our culture, there is also great pressure to conform. In order to decide the best way to respond to Halloween, it's important to examine the facts alongside some biblical principles.

Halloween: Then

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic harvest festival, Samhain. This festival commemorated the end of summer and the last day of the year, October 31. As the power of the sun waned with the onset of winter, people were afraid that life itself, not just the year, was coming to an end. They imagined that the night was haunted by ghosts and witches. Concerned for their survival, people employed every possible means, including lighting huge bonfires, to fortify the flames of the dying sun.

Some said that bonfires would also light the way for wandering spirits, while others said the fires would keep evil spirits away from people's homes. With the belief in the wandering spirits of the dead came the custom of preparing offerings of special foods and of dressing up as these spirits and wild animals.

Early Christian missionaries began a redefinition of festivals and celebrations. They attempted to accommodate the traditional religious beliefs and practices of those they sought to convert. Many holidays observed today came about as a result of this policy and were derived in some part from already existing festivals and celebrations. The first day of November was declared All Saints Day. The celebration began at sundown prior to November 1. This day became known as the Eve of All Saints Day, the Eve of All Hallows (the term "hallow" refers to saints) or Hallow Even. It is the glossing of the name Hallow Even that eventually produced the name Halloween.

Halloween: Now

Halloween has been known in North America since colonial days, but it wasn't until Irish settlers brought their Halloween customs to America in the 1840s that the festival started growing in popularity. By the middle of the twentieth century it had become mostly a children's holiday.

But, by the late 1970s, there was a great resurgence of adult activities on Halloween. In the last decade, Halloween has exploded in the United States as a highly commercialized national holiday. However, the question still remains: As a parent, how will you respond to Halloween?

Responding to Halloween

Some people are convinced that if we just ignore Halloween, it will disappear. Unfortunately, they don't realize that Halloween is here to stay. And, burying our heads in the sand won't make it go away. So, what are some valid options we can consider?

Choose not to participate in anything at all to do with Halloween. This means locking your front door, turning out the lights, and basically acting as if no one is at home when trick-or-treaters come through your neighborhood.

Provide an alternative activity. Why not take advantage of all the fanfare and provide an alternative that could take people one step closer to a relationship with Jesus?

Ephesians 5:15-16 says: "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because days are evil." Halloween is another opportunity for Christians to share their faith. Participating in an alternative is not the same as celebrating the holiday.

Ultimately, Halloween can be a great opportunity to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). Alternatives to the typical Halloween celebration can come in many different forms. They are limited only by your sense of imagination and creativity.

For some, it might be as simple as planning a special family night. This could be a great time to establish some fun family traditions. Start by serving a favorite meal for dinner. Then, plan an evening of fun activities and games just for the kids. You could also plan to go out somewhere as a family and finish off the evening at home with a special dessert.

There are also many other ways Christians can respond to Halloween, including reverse door-to-door evangelism (giving out tracts to people who come to your door), harvest festivals, or progressive dinners. You can also offer information about your church's preschool and children's programs.

Remember to use the Bible as your filter for what takes place at the alternative. The worst thing you could do is present an alternative event that is just like every other Halloween event in town. Don't see how closely you can copy the world. Instead, make your event appealing but different. Whatever you do, remember the principle found in l Corinthians 10:31: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

Our desire should be to please God in everything we do. How we respond to Halloween is no exception. We can provide for children a fun and safe alternative to Halloween and still glorify God. Why should the devil have all the fun? Let's be creative as we "turn on the light" of God's Word and overcome "evil with good" on October 31.

Now What?

As your family decides how to respond to Halloween, part of the decision-making process should include a time to discuss Halloween with your children. Here are some questions for your family to think about and discuss:

For Parents:

  • What traditions did you participate in as a child at Halloween?
  • Have you practiced any of these same traditions with your own children? Why or why not?
  • How important do you feel it is to develop family traditions and keep a Christian perspective at Halloween?

For Children:

  • What do you like the most about Halloween? What do you like the least?
  • What would you like our family to do on Halloween?
  • What do you think Jesus would want you to do on Halloween?


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