Halloween: Behind the Mask

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Behind the Mask

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Halloween is undoubtedly one of the strangest holidays people celebrate, with its symbolism of witches, devils, skeletons, bats and black cats. Is it not a little bizarre that children are taught to dress up as ghosts and monsters to go from house to house demanding "trick or treat!" (with the threat of a trick or prank constituting a playful form of extortion)?

Would God be against something as harmless as Halloween, especially since it allows children to have fun and enjoy a little entertainment? Can’t we let them have a little harmless fun? 

While tricks are no longer the norm in most places, it used to be common in many areas that refusal to give trick-or-treaters candy invited minor acts of vandalism, such as having one's windows marred with a bar of soap, trash dumped on the lawn, toilet paper unrolled across tree limbs, and raw eggs thrown against the house and car.

Where, how and when did such strange customs begin? And why do they continue?

Many parents encourage their children to celebrate Halloween, assuming it to be harmless and innocent fun. But why? Would parents honor this holiday if they knew what's behind it—behind the mask?

Halloween's origins

Few people really understand the origins of Halloween. However, many clues are obvious from the trappings of the holiday—witches, ghosts, jack-o'-lanterns, skeletons and the like.

History shows that behind the dark mask of this popular children's holiday reside the terrors of an ancient Celtic festival renamed All Hallows Eve. It was originally a holiday marking the mythical time when the dead supposedly rose from their graves to walk the earth.

To better understand the origins of Halloween one needs to be introduced to the ancient pagan festival of Samhain (usually pronounced sow-en).

In The Encyclopedia of Religion, under the heading "Halloween," the authors link Halloween to the eve of Samhain, "a celebration marking the beginning of winter as well as the first day of the New Year within the ancient Celtic culture of the British Isles."

This encyclopedia explains that "the time of Samhain comprised the eve of the feast and the day itself (31 October and 1 November). This event was a crucial seam in the social and religious fabric of the Celtic year, and the eve of Samhain set the tone for the annual celebration as a threatening, fantastic, mysterious rite of passage to a new year" (1987, p. 176).

Both the eve and day of Samhain were thought to be a time when the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds were broken, allowing passage between the two. "Other worldly entities, such as the souls of the dead, were able to visit earthly inhabitants, and humans could take the opportunity to penetrate the domains of the gods and supernatural creatures.

"Fiery tributes and sacrifices of animals, crops, and possibly human beings were made to appease supernatural powers that controlled the fertility of the land. Samhain acknowledged the entire spectrum of nonhuman forces that roamed the earth during that period" (ibid., p. 177).

The Encyclopedia of Religion then explains the origin of the bizarre customs that survive in today's Halloween: "Divination activities remained a popular practice. Adults, dressed in fantastic disguises and masks, imitated supernatural beings and visited homes where occupants would offer tributes of food and drink to them. A fear of nocturnal creatures, such as bats and owls, persisted, since these animals were believed to communicate with the spirits of the dead" (emphasis added).

Halloween comes to the New World

Centuries later, Irish and Scottish immigrants brought the custom of Halloween with them to the New World. After massive immigration of the Irish to the United States during the great potato famine in Ireland (1845-46), Halloween eventually became a national event.

Today, says The Encyclopedia of Religion, "modern Halloween activities have centered on mischief making and masquerading in costumes, often resembling otherworldly characters. Folk customs, now treated as games (such as bobbing for apples), have continued from the various divination practices of the ancient celebrants of this occasion. Supernatural figures (such as the ghost, the witch, the vampire, the devil) play a key role in supplying an aura of the mysterious to the evening, whether or not they originally had an association with the festival.

"Children are particularly susceptible to the imagery of Halloween, as can be seen in their fascination with the demonic likeness of a carved and illuminated pumpkin, known as the jack-o'-lantern. In recent times, children have taken up the practice of dressing in Halloween costumes and visiting homes in search of edible and monetary treats, lightly threatening to play a trick on the owner if a treat is not produced . . .

"There also has been renewed interest in Halloween as a time when adults can also cross cultural boundaries and shed their identities by indulging in an uninhibited evening of frivolity. Thus, the basic Celtic quality of the festival as an evening of annual escape from normal realities and expectations has remained into the twentieth century" (p. 177).

God unmasks Halloween

Does the Bible have anything to say about strange customs and holidays such as this? In fact, it does—and none of it is good.

While God's Holy Days in the Bible celebrate the role of Jesus Christ in bringing mankind to salvation in the eternal family of God (as explained in the following article and our free Bible study aid God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind), Halloween is a celebration of the opposite—of demonism, witchcraft, death and evil spirits.

God's Word makes it clear that no one should dare entertain witchcraft or act as a sorcerer. "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD" (Deuteronomy 18:10-11, emphasis added throughout).

God pronounced death on any Israelites who would dare dally with demonism or Satanism: "A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:27). "You shall not permit a sorceress to live" (Exodus 22:18).

Why such a harsh penalty? God did not want such perverted, demonic practices to spread among His people and corrupt others. "But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst" (Deuteronomy 13:5).

Would God be against something as harmless as Halloween, especially since it allows children to have fun and enjoy a little entertainment? Can't we let them have a little harmless fun?

Frankly, Halloween is anything but harmless. It focuses one's attention on witchcraft and demonism, which flies in the face of the holy God Almighty! When parents not only allow but also encourage their children to celebrate witches and goblins, they are teaching them that it's acceptable to deal in demonism.

And we have seen what God thinks of that. God is a God of light and truth (1 John 1:5). Satan, "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4), is a very real being—a being of darkness, deception and death (Revelation 12:9; John 8:44). We are to have nothing to do with his ways. (To learn more, request our Bible study aid Is There Really a Devil?)

Do not assume that Halloween is a harmless holiday. God hates mankind's dabbling in the spirit world of Satan and his demons!

If there were no other reason available, that should be enough. But there are more reasons. Halloween keeps humankind, and many Christians, confused, disoriented and separated from the one and only true God.

God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Nor is He the author of Halloween or any other "Christianized" pagan holidays (Amos 5:21). Why would the only true God who loves mankind support any worldly holiday that blinds human beings to Him and His truth and that holds men, women and children captive to deception?

What does God expect from you on Halloween?

You now know what lurks behind Halloween's mask: Satan the devil! God will one day unmask the ritual and tradition of Halloween to all people (Hebrews 8:10-11).

If you believe that God exists and you understand that He is highly offended by the holidays designed and perpetuated by the god of this age, then you have a choice: whether you will begin honoring God the way He expects to be honored and be blessed for doing it, or whether you will ignore the truth revealed in history and His Word. Don't wait!

God is not a god of masks, but a God of truth. God says that if you honor Him, He will honor you (1 Samuel 2:30). Ignore God and He will leave you subject to the god of this world and all that entails. God expects all who love and honor Him to repent from dead works and turn in faith toward Him, the only true God.