Trick or Treat

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken October 31, 1999

If you saw any trick-or-treaters on your way to church, you know that tonight is Halloween, America's second most popular holiday. Halloween often poses a dilemma for Christian families. On the one hand, we are not opposed to carving pumpkins, dressing up in costumes, visiting our neighbors, or sharing our candy. In fact, we are positively in favor of all those things. On the other hand, we are opposed to ghouls, ghosts, and goblins. Hence our dilemma. Halloween is a dangerous mixture of good, wholesome fun and dark, deceptive evil.

Halloween has its origins in the druid festivals of the ancient Celts. The druids were pagan priests. According to the Celtic calendar, October 31 was the last day of the year, known as “Samhain,” or “summer's end.” The druids marked the passing of the old year by celebrating death. First they gathered food for their festivities, which may have been the origin of “trick-or-treating.” Then they gathered around huge bonfires at which they held sinister rituals, sacrificing animals and even human beings to appease their gods. These sacrifices were intended to free the souls of the dead from their bondage. Ultimately, of course, the druids were worshipping Satan.

Some of these practices continued even after the Christianization of Europe. The word “Halloween” is derived from the phrase “All Hallow's Eve.” For early Medieval Christians, November 1 was All Hallow's Day, or All Saint's Day. It was a day for remembering the saints of the past, especially those Christians who had died during the previous year. If November 1 was All Hallow's Day, then October 31 was All Hallow's Eve, or “Hallowe’en.” Since the church never quite managed to drive paganism out of Europe, Halloween remained a night for revelling in evil.

Halloween is sometimes called “the Devil's birthday.” That is not true, of course. Satan was created before this world began, and he has no right to claim October 31 for his own. Jesus Christ is Lord of the calendar. This day, like every day, is a day that the Lord has made—“Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24). But even if the devil does not have a birthday, Halloween probably is his favorite night of the year. It is the night when witches gather in their covens to swear allegiance to Satan and to recite incantations against the church. It is the night when people venture into the haunting darkness, dressed up as frightful monsters.

The biggest danger with Halloween is the way that it trivializes evil. Children, especially, are led to believe that wizards and witches are fun, in a spooky kind of way. This is one of Satan's favorite tricks: Getting people to think that evil is a treat.

We live in a culture where Satanic influences are accepted as part of daily life. In the streets of our city there are spirit shops. On our television sets there are several situation comedies featuring the practical magic of seductive young witches. In the schoolyard, children are trading their Pokémon cards to gain new powers. Soon some of them will take the next step and graduate to “Magic: the Gathering,” a sort of advanced form of Pokémon that is really an introduction to the occult. At the bookstores they are selling millions of copies of Harry Potter, a series of books set at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. On our nation's military bases, the Wiccans have been granted the freedom to assemble for their Satanic rituals. Halloween has its part to play in all this neo-paganism. For many it is the first step on a path that leads deeper and deeper into the bewitching darkness.

The Bible contains many strong warnings against having anything to do with witchcraft of any kind. Listen to what God said, through his prophet Moses: “Let no one be found among you who… practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD… But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so. The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deut. 18:10-12a, 14b-15). When Moses spoke of a prophet like himself, a prophet worth listening to, he was ultimately referring to Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 17:5). He was saying that we have to choose who we will listen to. Either we can listen to witches and wizards, or we can listen to God's own Son, but we cannot listen to both.

In some respects, Halloween is an area where individual Christians have some freedom to determine what it means to be in the world without being of the world. Some Christian parents refuse to let their children have anything whatsoever to do with Halloween. Others may allow them to wear costumes to school or around the neighborhood. Perhaps there is some wisdom in Christians having alternative events of their own, like throwing a Noah's Ark party, or celebrating Reformation Day on the last Sunday in October, or remembering the dearly departed saints on November 1 (although even such practices can become superstitious).

But there can be no compromise when it comes to any form of witchcraft, which the New Testament describes as an “act of the sinful nature” which prevents its practitioners from inheriting the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21). With so many demonic images around at this time of year, Christian parents should warn their children about the dangers of becoming enchanted by evil. I think of a toddler who arrived at pre-school this week, only to find his teacher dressed as a witch. “It's scary, Mommy!” he said. The little boy was not about to be tricked by one of Satan's “treats.” Neither should we. On Halloween night, as on every night, Christians should pray that God would deliver us from the Evil One (Matt. 6:13).

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