(This is an revised and updated version of last year’s post.) A friend of mine used to sound me out when he was trying to make up his mind about something. He’d ask my opinion, then add, “And don’t do that professor thing: I don’t want both sides of the issue. I want to know what you really think.” But that is what I really think, I’d protest, giving him both sides of why he should look at both sides of the issue.
It’s a wonder he ever asked me any more questions.
So here’s the answer you might expect to the question that is the title of this post: “It depends.” What do you mean by “participate”? If you and a friend have been waiting for an excuse to wear that matched set of Snoopy and Woodstock costumes to the office, who am I to object?
But let’s be clear. If the question is whether it’s permissible for Christians to participate in Halloween activities, then apart from obvious extremes (e.g., various forms of vandalism), the answer is yes. Neither carving a pumpkin nor trick-or-treating are matters of salvation. But should Christians participate? Well, ask yourself honestly: why would you want to?
I didn’t grow up in a Christian family, so Halloween wasn’t an issue back then. When my wife and I had kids of our own, though, we decided against participating, as a matter of Christian principle. Now, we just put a sign up on our front door, politely opting out and wishing people a safe evening.
We’re following the advice of Paul, who for the sake of the gospel, sometimes set aside his freedom and rights. He once had to address the arrogance of Christians who were joining in pagan idol feasts:
Everything is permitted, but everything isn’t beneficial. Everything is permitted, but everything doesn’t build others up. No one should look out for their own advantage, but they should look out for each other. (1 Cor 10:23-24, CEB)
A believer is free to eat meat previously sacrificed to idols (vss. 25-27)–but what if a fellow believer objects? Don’t stand on your rights, Paul says; consider what’s best for the other person’s conscience (vss. 28-29), so they won’t stumble in their faith (vs. 32). Flee idolatry (vs. 14) and do everything for the glory of God (vs. 31).
Halloween isn’t just about cute kids in costumes. Whatever its actual origin, the cultural celebration we have now is not intended to honor God–indeed, just the opposite. Halloween specialty stores, for example, glory in evil, darkness, and death; costumes encourage adults to dress up like extras from a zero-budget zombie movie. In Oklahoma recently, neighbors called 911 over a man’s over-the-top decorations, including a realistic-looking dead body in the driveway, crushed and bloodied beneath his garage door.
And perhaps most scandalously of all: this past weekend, at our seminary’s Harvest Festival, one of the students came dressed as…me. (Hopefully, he didn’t frighten too many children.)
Christians are free to participate–but why? Not everything is beneficial; not everything is done for the glory of God.
Afraid the kids will feel left out? Talk to them: help them understand what you believe and why. Look for alternatives like your own local Harvest Festival, or come up with new family traditions of your own. Kids love rituals that mark their family as special and fun.
So be creative. And whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.