Halloween is one of those holidays that has sometimes been controversial for Christians. Should Christians celebrate Halloween? Should they participate in the trick-or-treating and the pumpkins and the spooky decorations? Or should Christians create Harvest Festivals or another Christian alternative to celebrate and wear costumes without actually celebrating Halloween? Growing up I experienced a variety of Halloween celebrations, ranging from being dressed up as a little devil, not being allowed to go out trick-or-treating, and even being at home passing out bible tracts (with candy) to trick-or-treaters. Whether or not you are interested in celebrating Halloween, there are some very interesting religious connections that we are often oblivious to on Halloween.
Where Halloween comes from?
Halloween is also called "All Hallow's Eve" or "All Saints Eve". It is named this because it is the eve of All Saints Day. The word Hallow (like "Hallowed by thy name") actually means "holy" and is essentially making the point that Halloween is to All Saints Day as Christmas Eve is to Christmas Day. The two days are meant to be similar in purpose, not opposites.
All Saints Day is a Christian feast that honors and remembers all Christian saints, both those who are popularly known and those who are unknown. As Christians it is important to note that by faith in Jesus, all Christians should be considered saints - meaning that All Saints Day is a feast honoring and remembering all past Christians, present Christians, and even looking forward to future ones. Luther famously said that we are both "saint and sinner" at the same time. All Saints Day is a festival to celebrate all those who have or had faith in Jesus and the victory that Jesus has over sin, death, and the power of the devil.
On October 31, we celebrate the failure of sin, death, and the devil. On November 1, we celebrate Christ's victory. There is no failure of sin, death, and the devil without the victory of Christ.
Are there any pagan connections?
As with many holidays that we celebrate in the United States, many people make an argument that our traditions stem from ancient pagan practices. At Christmas some will argue the pagan roots of the Christmas tree; many make a similar argument with Halloween, that it is rooted in the traditions of the ancient pagan holiday Samhain. Samhain is a Celtic holiday that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Some of the elements that we see celebrated at Halloween like spirits and sorcery are believed to have connections to this pagan celebration.
According to historian Nicholas Rogers, “the pagan origins of Halloween” arise not from rumors of human sacrifice but from “the notion of Samhain as a festival of the dead and as a time of supernatural intensity heralding the onset of winter.”
Yet, just as many reject the pagan origins of other Christian holidays, so some also reject any pagan connections in Halloween:
This is a good place to note that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called "New Age" movement. (An example is the article by Wynn Parks cited above.) These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They do this to try and make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. Not true.
I don't know enough about the history of Halloween to make any claims whether or not Halloween does indeed have connections to the pagan holiday Samhain, but I can safely say that if Halloween has pagan connections, it is also has significant connections to Christianity. If the possible connections to paganism are enough to concern you, the question then becomes is Halloween something that we should simply celebrate as it is, is it something that we should reject altogether, or is it something that we can redeem the good while getting rid of the bad?
I don't know the perfect answer to that question, but the connections to Christianity make a good argument that Halloween is at least worth celebrating in some form or fashion.
What about the costumes?
Of course, we all know that the best part of Halloween is the dressing up in costumes and the free candy. Teenagers will go house to house looking for free candy well beyond the age that their neighbors think their costumes are cute. Parents look forward to getting their kids dressed up in cute costumes and taking pictures with their pumpkins in front of the house. I can't wait for the pumpkin seeds, walking around our neighborhood with my little buzz lightyear by my side, and of course eating my son's candy.
But get this. A tradition developed in Halloween to celebrate victory over Satan… and it was the costumes. The tradition arose that on the Eve of All Saints' Day people would dress up in costumes making a mockery of the devil in order to make the bold claim that "Satan has no power over me." Christians celebrating the good news of Jesus would dress up, laugh, and play because Jesus won.
"[Jesus] shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." - Hebrews 2:14-15
The devil loses. Sin loses. Death loses.
Jesus wins. The cross wins. Resurrection wins.
"This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us." - Biblical Horizons
Everybody has to figure out what's best for them and their families this Halloween. If you are like me and going out and trick-or-treating this year, let's make a mockery of Satan and celebrate that Jesus wins. Martin Luther said, "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn." Let's mock, laugh, and play because sin, death, and the devil have already lost.