Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Jon Harris

For many Christians, especially those with children, navigating Halloween can be awkward. There are many opinions on what constitutes an appropriate level of participation. Some believers think any involvement is sinful while others believe the holiday is harmless in its commercialized form. Many churches sponsor creative alternatives such as “trunk or treat” or “reverse trick or treat.” Children can dress up as their favorite Bible characters and use the event as an evangelistic endeavor. But, what’s the right approach?

The Origins of Halloween

Much of the controversy surrounding Halloween stems from assumptions about its Pagan origins. Many believe a direct line exists between Samhain, a Druid harvest festival, and our modern celebration. For over a hundred years, sources such as Ruth Edna Kelley’s The Book of Hallowe’en, traced many of our modern customs such as revering black cats, bobbing for apples, and Jack-o’-lanterns to Druid rituals.

For example, Kelley claims that bonfires were fueled by human sacrifices meant to ensure protection and blessing. However, after Ireland converted to Catholicism, bonfires did not include human sacrifices and instead commemorated All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day where they signified the light souls followed to Paradise.1 Christians opposed to Halloween view this “Christianization” as a foolish attempt to mix Christian and pagan practices.

While there may be some truth to this narrative it does tend to oversimplify centuries of development. Many of the traditions associated with Halloween are uniquely connected to Christendom. The term Halloween itself means “All Hallows’ Eve” and communicates Christian assumptions concerning death. Sharing soule cakes to commemorate Christians who passed away is as likely a story as any for the origin of trick-or-treating. Many of the images and sounds we associate with Halloween such as graveyards and church bells did not exist in a pagan context. 

Robert Davis from the University of Glasgow believes that “almost every feature of the pagan explanation of Halloween evaporates in the face of detailed inspection.” The Samhain celebration contained neither “veneration of the dead,” nor “supernatural activity linked to the temporary proximity of the otherworld,” nor other features intrinsic to the holiday.2

The Modern Celebration

Halloween was not widely celebrated in America until the 19th century when large waves of immigrants of Celtic descent came to the United States. Though it did appear on some church calendars in the Southern states before this, it was not anything like it is today. The Puritans of New England completely rejected the holiday, as they did Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations with their ties to paganism, Catholicism, and purportedly sinful customs such as dancing and plays. They inspired much of the Protestant resistance to these holidays in modern times.

Ironically, today, the Northeast, with its lore of witches and ghosts, such as in Salem, Massachusetts, or Sleepy Hollow, New York, is internationally recognized as a region that takes the holiday more seriously than other areas. My own experience living in North Carolina, Virginia, and New York around this time of year tells me that much more effort is put into the holiday in New York, and decorative depictions are typically much more depraved and ghoulish.

However, regardless of where someone lives, the holiday is picking up steam. From 2005 to 2023, Americans increased their Halloween spending fourfold.3 The holiday is also changing. Whether the innocent costume parties for children, or morbid spectacles for adults, the commercialized American Halloween phenomenon is a recent development that includes aspects from previous harvest, pagan, and Christian celebrations mixed with elements from Victorian literature and modern film. What the baby-boom generation considered a traditional celebration of cowboys, princesses, and candy corn is increasingly focused on witches, magic, and alcohol.

Freedom in Christ?

All-or-nothing approaches to Halloween are easy. Permitting full participation or banning all involvement does not require someone to think through how the holiday is perceived in their region and how Christians can use it as an opportunity for good. For example, in New York, where witch shops and spell books are a common sight, Christians must be more careful with community holiday celebrations. Many members of my own church stay home and hand out gospel tracts with candy to trick-or-treaters.

There are other places where Halloween is not as attached to paganism and it may be possible for Christians to go to community events which are not much more than harvest parties with costumes. There are a variety of ways to celebrate the day and a range of ways to be involved.

Of course, if someone’s conscience does not allow them to participate in any way, it is better to forgo the celebration altogether since “whatever is not from faith is sin.” Christians who have this conviction should be careful they do not bind the consciences of other believers who do not share the same conviction. At the same time, it is important to remember while Christians were permitted to eat meat sacrificed to idols, they were not allowed to directly participate in the sacrifice. Any celebration that includes seances, ouija boards, drugs, or other sinful activities is off limits as are celebrations that glorify evil.

The Dominion Option

Halloween presents Christians with choices and opportunities, and the level of participation will likely look different for different homes, churches, and regions. In places where the Christian population is small, other community organizations will likely control the nature of public festivities. But, in areas where there is a strong Christian presence, there are other options.

Christians can band together to restore aspects of Allhallowtide, a three-day celebration starting with Halloween to honor Christians from history. They can also emphasize Reformation Day as an alternative if they prefer. If, as many historians believe, Halloween was a Christian holiday hijacked by pagans, there is no reason Christians cannot reclaim the day for their own purposes. Perhaps some of the commercialized American staples such as costumes and candy can be mixed in.

Whatever approach Christians take, there are many options for approaching the holiday with confidence and conviction.

1 Ruth Edna Kelley, The Book of Hallowe’en (Zem Books, 2018), 23.

2 Malcolm Foley and Hugh O’Donnell, Treat or Trick? Halloween in a Globalising World (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 29.

3 “Annual Halloween Expenditure in the United States 2005-2023,” Statista, accessed October 31, 2023,

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