It all started with a rather innocuous question: “Mama, why does that pumpkin have a face?” My son, Gideon, was around two years old. Caught off guard, I said what any surprised Christian mom would say when faced with the “Halloween talk” on the sidewalk in front of the grocery store: “Umm, well…” and I went on to give a very vague explanation about how sometimes people carve pumpkins for a holiday that some people celebrate. He was quickly distracted by a different window display and I breathed a sigh of relief. I needed some time to think about this. As Christians, we do not celebrate this holiday. How does a Christian go about explaining Halloween to children?
A Brief (Kid-Friendly) History: Where Did Halloween Come From?
In ancient Ireland, the Celts celebrated the end of the year with a Samhain (pronounced SOW-in) feast. That night, they believed, the wall between the living and the dead opened. They built bonfires to greet the dead and wore masks and costumes and paraded to the outskirts of town to lead the ghosts away.
In the Middle Ages, when Christianity came to the Celtic lands, the Catholic Church tried to apply the pagan Samhain feast custom to All Soul’s Day, held on November 2 (The Facts on Halloween by John Ankerberg, pgs. 56,10-11and Catholic Customs & Traditions: A Popular Guide by Greg Dues,p.196). The eve of All Soul’s Day became All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween. Masked children went from house to house to pray for the dead in exchange for treats.
As the producer of the show That’s in the Bible, this information wasn’t new to me.
On the show, we provide Biblical answers to common questions like what it means to celebrate Halloween, what does celebrating Easter say about you, even “Can you stop being gay?”
But usually our target audience is over the age of 13, so how do I explain it to my curious 4-year-old who is also now a brand new preschooler?
Why don’t Christians celebrate Halloween?
The first major holiday of the school year: Halloween. From the day that he asked about the pumpkins, we have been giving him bits of information about Halloween any time he had questions. But it’s not just a choice for our family not to celebrate it. Our beliefs are rooted in the Bible. And while the Bible doesn’t outright say the word “Halloween,” here’s a key verse I learned from a minister that provides guidance regarding traditions rooted in beliefs of the dead rising from their graves and returning to their homes:
As the cloud disappears and vanishes away, So he who goes down to the grave does not come up. He shall never return to his house, Nor shall his place know him anymore. Job 7:9-10 NKJV
Contrary to the main reason for the Samhain festival and All Soul’s Day, the dead aren’t going anywhere, nor do they need any prayers. Well, spiritual beliefs aside, should Halloween still be celebrated out of tradition’s sake? There’s a verse addressing that too:
But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. I Timothy 4:7 New King James Version
Striving for godliness is a priority one for Christians. In that same vein, in the pursuit of godliness, we need to exercise every effort to avoid falling for worldly vices:
Don’t give the Devil a chance. Ephesians 4:27 GNT
But…it’s just for fun…right?
Fast forward from the Middle Ages to the present day, and most people associate the holiday not with the world of the dead or offering prayers for them, but with superhero costumes and decorating their houses with electronic cackling witches. Masked children are not praying for the deceased, but instead, only need to say “Trick or Treat!” to have someone fill their buckets with candy. In fact, costumes aren’t used to lead ghosts away anymore; many of them are downright adorable (I’m looking at you, toddlers dressed as the elderly).
The idea of Halloween has shifted over the years. According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, when a local school ended the observance of Halloween traditions, parents were against it. One parent even saw Halloween as a way for children of a different culture to assimilate into American culture.
Surely, as long as people don’t dress up as witches, sorcerers, the undead, or the Devil, Halloween can be a fun fall activity, right?
Superficially, Halloween is all fun and candy, but no one can hide the fact that it has pagan roots, and even when the Catholic Church tried to take over the holiday, it still supported beliefs not even found in the Bible. This last verse is essential to remember:
Here then is my word to you, and I urge it on you in the Lord’s name: give up living as pagans do with their futile notions.Their minds are closed, they are alienated from the life that is in God, because ignorance prevails among them and their hearts have grown hard as stone.
Ephesians 4:17-18 REB
Prepare your children for the Halloween season
We cannot hide our children from the vices of the world, but there are steps we can take to make sure they’re prepared to live in it as a Christian.
- Explain to them where the holiday came from and what it means to people today.
- Ask their teachers to excuse our children from Halloween activities and parades, and if need be, send our children with other activities to do at school.
- Practice role-playing playing with our children to prepare for situations when they might be put on the spot. For example, if someone asks Gideon “What are you dressing up as for Halloween?” he knows to answer “I’m not dressing up as anything. My family and I don’t celebrate Halloween.”
- Pray together for understanding and a brave heart to stand their ground.
Our children will encounter a barrage of experiences in their lives that will stir up questions about their faith and beliefs. That’s OK. Our job as parents is to be their first teachers in faith and to equip them with knowledge and God’s words taught to us so they can make informed decisions, always growing in spiritual maturity.
Make your decision based on what the Bible says about celebrating things like Halloween.
This blog was co-written by Denise Alignay with biblical support by Richie Juatco, a Minister of the Gospel of the Church Of Christ.
Denise spent four years as an enrichment teacher for kindergarten through 2nd-grade students before joining the team at incmedia.org. She now uses her teacher training for mentally wrestling perplexing questions from her 4-year-old and teaching her 9-month-old how to hold cereal without dropping it.
Richie Juatco has been an ordained minister in the Church Of Christ (Iglesia Ni Cristo) since 2014.