During any holiday season it’s appropriate to understand the origins of the holiday and its meaning, to know why people celebrate it and discern whether it’s pleasing to God to participate. For God’s feasts, those specifically commanded in Scripture, there should be no concern; the challenge relates to culturally accepted traditions which might be considered sinful.
For example, is it OK to dress up in costumes on Halloween, or have an Easter egg hunt for the kids, or put up a Christmas tree and exchange presents? None of these traditions have any precedent in Scripture; they’re all rooted in pagan festivals “Christianized” by the Roman Catholic Church and adopted into its annual calendar.
In looking into this, many well-meaning Christians find these traditions repulsive and ungodly and refuse to participate, claiming we’re not to worship like the heathen or learn their ways. (De 20:18) They may even become inordinately passionate about not observing these holidays, walking in the misguided passion of the iconoclast, who simply enjoys pointing out and destroying other people’s beliefs as an end in itself.
In exposing the ignorance of those who’ve never really studied the history of these traditions for themselves, we can easily come across as “holier than thou”, judgmental, condescending and arrogant. This can become offensive to those who’ve grown up observing them, being encouraged and blessed in spite of their ignorance, and we should avoid all unnecessary offenses. (1Co 10:32) After all, there are much bigger issues to focus on, sins we’ve yet to articulate well and overcome, consequently running rampant in our families and churches. Majoring on the minor can easily become a distraction from our primary focus and calling in Christ, a kind of shallow virtue signaling.
Yet even if we have full understanding of these matters and see no particular benefit in observing these holidays ourselves, we are often in close community with family, friends, neighbors and work associates who still love to celebrate them, and often do so relatively innocently, even being spiritually, encouraged in them. We feel the need to find a way to live in peace in our communities and love our neighbors as ourselves, without offending our God or needlessly offending others.
In regard to observing any man-made custom or tradition, two simple principles guide godly behavior. Firstly, never willfully violate an explicit command of God (1Jn 2:1a); if a holiday tradition is forbidden in Torah, then abstain. Secondly, avoid behavior likely to cause others to stumble and sin (1Co 8:9-12), for this violates the law of Love. (1Co 16:14)
In applying these principles, I am unaware of any specific tradition or custom typically celebrated in Christian holidays which explicitly violates Torah. Putting up a Christmas tree, hunting for Easter eggs and even wearing masks or costumes are evidently all harmless in themselves. While some of these traditions may have at one time been associated with ungodly beliefs, the acts themselves are not forbidden in Torah and any direct association with pagan beliefs has long vanished, so practicing them does not encourage anyone today to adopt any related ancient, pagan mindset.
Having said this, we must be especially careful in addressing Halloween, which is perhaps the most problematic Roman Catholic tradition adopted in the West, where we often find a uniquely unhealthy, morbid focus on spiritual darkness, death, horror, etc.
Clearly, glorying in, celebrating or imitating sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy or divination is contrary to Torah; all who practice such things are an abomination to God. (De 18:10-12) Further, we’re encouraged to focus on wholesome, good and godly things (Php 4:8), which the very spirit of Halloween seems to violate.
Yet Halloween itself, historically, did not originate as a celebration of witchcraft or any kind of evil; it was instituted as an evening of preparation for All Saints Day on Nov 1, a time to be on guard against the forces of evil, to honor deceased loved ones and remember Christian martyrs. On the surface, this type of tradition does not seem evil; it might even be a good thing, all else being equal.
Rome was trying to “Christianize” Samhain, a Celtic celebration of the harvest, when it was believed the barrier between the dead and living was blurred such that spirits of the deceased might return to interact with the living. Wearing masks and lighting bonfires, traditions incorporated into Halloween itself, were thought to confuse and ward off evil spirits; there was no intent to celebrate them.
One might argue that it was inappropriate for Roman Catholicism to try to paganize this Celtic holiday, but even if it was, this doesn’t mean Halloween itself is explicitly evil; it was evidently not intended as a celebration of evil and no rituals or traditions officially included in this holiday violate Torah.
Even today, when those celebrating Halloween appear to be highlighting evil and celebrating it, in my experience they’re most often doing so ignorantly, not even believing in witchcraft or divination, certainly not approving it or wishing to promote or imitate it. Even so, the natural man’s fascination with evil (Jn 3:19) is often on display most vividly during this season, and often does lead to inappropriate behavior, even when done ignorantly or thoughtlessly.
One must be very careful, alert, observant and intentional about not encouraging or approving unhealthy activity or focus. (Ep 5:11) We are children of light and of the day, we are not of the night nor of darkness (1Th 5:5); we should always let our light shine. (Mt 5:14-16) Yet doing so humbly, without being self-righteous, overly critical, dismissive or uncharitable is indeed quite challenging.
Certainly, there likely are Halloween celebrations today which openly celebrate evil, where participating would damage a godly witness among unbelievers and encourage believers in unwholesome activities. When invited to any festivity, the thoughtful saint must use discretion (Ps 112:5), and carefully abstain from all appearance of evil. (1Th 5:22)
When considering whether to participate, let’s remember Christ lives in us, Who always does what He sees the Father do, and ask, “What is Jesus in me doing?” And let us be gentle with our brothers and sisters who don’t call it the same way we do: before their own Master they stand or fall (Ro 14:4); unless they’re plainly violating Torah, we ought not judge them. (13)
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