Can Christians celebrate Halloween? It's a question that comes up every year for Christians who get 'spooked' by the idea of their children dressing up as devils, downing candy and visiting haunted houses with witches, axe-murderers and spirits flying through the sky.
The reluctance of some Protestant Christians is understandable. Halloween has historical and spiritual connections to both an ancient pagan holiday known as Samhain, that in recent years has made something of a comeback; and the Roman Catholic observances called All Saints Day on Nov 1, and All Souls Day on Nov 2, when Catholic churches remember those who have died.
In Mexico, All Soul's Day is celebrated as Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos. Families hold picnics in cemeteries to be close with their dead ancestors with sweets and cakes baked in shapes of skulls and skeletons.
Given these connections, Halloween is a non-starter for many evangelical Christians. For others, Halloween provides an opportunity for outreach using the medium of Halloween but with a different message. This year, one pastor has launched an alternative called Jesus Ween that approaches Halloween as an opportunity for evangelism, with participants encouraged to give out Bibles instead of candy. Other churches are hosting Hell Houses, a Christian take on the haunted house with depictions of the punishment of eternal hell meant to inspire Christian belief.
Yet some Christians have a different way of approaching Halloween, and actually find Christian themes within the day's focus on the spirits of the dead and horror. In a piece in The Huffington Post on Christianity and Halloween, Jeff Kinley, author of 'The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook: Slaying The Living Dead Within opens with the scenario that many Christian parents will face:
Every year Christians face a cultural dilemma, beautifully articulated by a 5-year-old boy's announcement to his parents upon returning home from school one day.
"Mom and Dad, Jesus hates Halloween!" Then, pausing, he mumbled, "But He likes it a little bit, doesn't He?"
For Kinley, who is both Christian and fascinated by the horror genre, Halloween offers an opportunity to engage in some theological reflection about awakening the 'dead' parts within people. He quotes the director and 'godfather' of zombie films, George Romero, who said: "I've always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us." Kinley goes on to suggest that zombies can represent that 'inner beast that constantly moans and gnaws at our spirit.'
Of course, many other Christians view Halloween as a harmless exercise in creativity and fun that does not impact their faith one way or the other. This year, like years before, every Christian parent will have to decide upon their own answer to the question posed by the five-year-old boy of how much Jesus does, or doesn't, like Halloween.
PHOTOS: Veneration of the Dead from Around the World.
China celebrates multiple holidays on which the deceased are remembered. For Teng Chieh food and water are placed in front of photographs of family members and bonfires and lanterns are lit to guide the spirits' paths. During the Qingming Festival, the graves of the deceased are visited and tended to. Offerings of food, alcohol and trinkets made. And, the Hungry Ghost Festival occurs during ghost month (the seventh month of the Chinese calendar) when spirits are believed to emerge from the lower realm. Similar celebrations are observed throughout Asia. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Aside from Halloween, Mexico's El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is perhaps the most known celebration of the departed by those in the U.S. It's celebrated on the first days of November, coinciding with the Catholic observances of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Generally speaking children are remembered on November 1 and adults on November 2. To mark these days, altars are constructed and dedicated to the dead, and their grave sites are decorated with flowers, candles and mementos and stocked with their favorite foods. Photo: Christian Frausto Bernal/Flickr
The three-day Japanese Obon festival is a Buddhist observance dedicated to the spirits of ancestors. During the festival, celebrated in July or August, special foods are prepared, red lanterns are hung and glowing lanterns are set afloat on waterways. Obon has a family-reunion element, as the Japanese will return to their ancestral homes to be reunited with relatives living and deceased. Graves are visited and fires might be lit to guide the spirits home. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
In Bolivia a festival known as Dia de los ñatitas or Day of the Skulls is celebrated in November a week after All Saints' Day. It stems from a historic tradition of keeping skulls -- sometimes of family members but not always -- in the home to watch over and protect the family. To mark the festival, the skulls are given fresh adornments like hats or crowns of flowers and gift offerings are made. They might also be brought to the cemetery for prayers and blessings. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Korea's Chuseok festival is a celebration of the harvest that could be likened to Korean Thanksgiving. During the festival, ancestors are celebrated and thanked for the blessing of the annual bounty. During the observance, memorial services are held for the departed and time is made to clean familial grave sites. Traditional dress is donned and participants engage in dancing, wrestling matches and prepare foods like rice cakes. Photo: manbeastextraordinaire/Flickr
Haitians also celebrate a day of the dead known as Ghede, a voodoo tradition that's celebrated in conjunction with Catholic All Souls' Day. During nighttime celebrations loud music is played to awaken Baron Samedi, the god of death. And, participants will dress in costumes meant to channel the Ghedes, or spirits of the underworld. Faces will also be painted white to mimic the pallor of the dead. Cemeteries are visited to both visit departed families and make offerings, like that of spiced alcohol, to Baron Samedi. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
In India, Pitru Paksha is the 16-day period in which ancestors are honored. Hindu mythology holds that three generations of deceased are in a netherworld called Pitru-loka that exists between heaven and earth. The living perform the Shrāddha rite in their memory to help them cross over. Specific foods like dal and rice are also offered. Photo: Honza Soukup/Flickr
WhatsOverThere:The ancient Maya worshiped the God of Death. The underworld or Xibalba was central to the Mayan religion. As seen on http://mayantrip.com