Witherington on Halloween

Ben Witherington wrote on the question of whether Christians should or should not celebrate Halloween. He traces its historical origin, noting that

. . . the term Halloween is in fact a modified form of All Hallow’s Eve, that is the day in the Christian calendar before All Saints Day. It has nothing whatsoever to do with . . . the modern or more ancient practices of Bonfire Night, which may or may not derive from the ancient Celtic celebration of Harvest Night or Samhain. . . .

It is not a surprise that the bringing of the practice of celebrating Halloween in America is credited to the Irish Catholics, since they in particular had a robust celebration of the saints— for example St. Patrick’s Day.  The practice of celebrating All Hallow’s Eve is especially associated historically with the Catholic tradition for another reason as well.

Witherington anticipates the objection of some Protestant groups. To them, he offers that

Conservative Protestants might well object to the practice of Halloween on the grounds that it offers up a theology of the afterlife they do not agree with (i.e. they do not believe in purgatory or limbo), but it would be well if they evaluated the practice on the proper historical grounds, and not make the mistake of thinking the practice originally had purely pagan much less demonic origins, which is not in fact true.  Some churches today in fact have used the occasion to teach children about the saints in heaven and how they got there, especially focusing on the martyrs and the book of Revelation.

I tend to agree with his conclusion, which I feel is fair:

. . . Halloween could be used as a time that children could bear witness to their faith— dressing up in costumes representing the heroes of faith, chronicled in texts like Hebrews 11.  In so doing, they could use the occasion of a holiday, to remember once more a holy day– the celebration of all the saints who have gone  into the living presence of God who one day will return with Christ to reign on earth, as that great hymn “For All the Saints” reminds us.

Read the entire article here.

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3 thoughts on “Witherington on Halloween

  1. It is a bit funny how contentious this holiday can be in Christian circles. I remember as a teen I attended a “Harvest Party” put on by our Senior Pastor. It was an “alternative” to Halloween for the kids in the youth group. I thought I was doing a good thing.

    This only lead to a very zealous woman in the church accusing me and the rest of the youth group as participating in pagan holy-days! She said something about not putting a Christian holy-day on a pagan holy-day because it is still pagan, and made some reference to Christmas. I was a bit unsure of where she was going with it. Especially since Sunday is to the Sun, Monday to the Moon, and so forth and so on. It seemed like any alternative religious festival was going to land on a day dedicated to a pagan god somewhere, or at least the month!

    I think I will bring my own kids, when I have them, to some community center type of Halloween gathering. I am a bit nervous about door-to-door neighborhood trick-or-treating, not because it is pagan, but because there are some terrible people out there that I wouldn’t want my kids to take candy from!

  2. This year my wife decided she’s had enough of the pagan twist. Yesterday the family went to my son’s school, where they had Reformation Day instead, folks adored in the garb of 16th century Germans and so no.

    The pastor of the church, where the school is at, played Luther – his German was horrible. :-D

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