Talking with your children about... Halloween

When Scripture Union undertook research into children and faith, as part of the development of Guardians of Ancora, we heard from many parents, carers and group leaders who struggled to know what to say and how to talk with children about big issues.

These ‘Talking with your children about…’ features are part of our response to this expressed need. We hope you find the ideas and suggestions here help both you and your family.

Halloween has become increasingly popular in the UK. In some ways it is replacing 5 November as the autumn event to celebrate. Much of its popularity is due to the influence of American TV, it being a more popular holiday in US where the practice originated of children partying, dressing up and ‘trick or treating’. Some schools make quite a lot of it, although this is now being questioned.

Ancient history

The origins of Halloween lie buried deep in the mists of time and probably draw on a number of sources. The Celtic feast of Samhain (pronounced, for some strange reason, sow-in), was celebrated the end of harvest and the beginning of the dark period of winter. At this time the boundary between this world and the world of the dead was thought to dissolve and the dead returned to earth and created havoc by playing tricks on people and damaging crops. Some suggest that this gave plenty of opportunity for the local practical jokers to do their worst and blame it on the spirits, and some people used to dress up in order to deceive the spirits. For the Celts there would have been feasting around bonfires, designed to ward off the spirits. This was a good time for telling fortunes, as the spirits were more easily reached. However, our sources for this period are very limited so much of this is conjecture.

The Romans added two feasts of their own: Feralia, which commemorated the dead, and a feast in celebration of Pomana the goddess of fruit and trees – hence perhaps the links with apples, which were her symbol.

Enter the Christian church, who introduced the Feast of All Saints on 1 November in an attempt to move interest away from the emphasis on pagan festivals and the celebration of the dead. This is where the term ‘Halloween’ originates, since 1 November was originally the Feast of All Hallows, and 31 October, All Hallows’ Eve, later contracted to ‘Hallowe’en’.

Modern times

Churches and individual Christians will differ in their assessment. Some will see Halloween as a harmless bit of fun, quite detached from its pagan origins (but we need to note that Samhain is still a key festival for modern Pagans); others will see it as direct involvement with the occult. In between there is a whole range of views. If you are discussing this with your children, be clear on your own point of view first, and then be clear about the position taken by your own church, which may be different.

Bible principles

There are differences between different Christian traditions, so think carefully. It is probably best to deal with the questions the children have, and to be positive rather than negative.

Evil forces exist and can influence our world for ill (Ephesians 6:11; 1 Peter 5:8). This should concern us but need not make us afraid. Stories of Jesus and the early disciples dealing with demons (Mark 1:21–28; 8:14–32; Acts 16:11–21) may be too difficult for younger children, but they do show that, while evil has power, Jesus is more powerful. He has won the victory over all the forces of evil (Colossians 2:15).

Romans 6:1–10 and 1 Corinthians 15:12–34 are powerful passages about Jesus’ victory over death. Paul argues that idols have no real existence (1 Corinthians 8:1–13), as does Isaiah (46:1–8).  

But Paul also wants to be clear that where people have been converted from pagan religions they may still believe that the idols have power and that those feelings should be respected.  Behind them there may well be some demonic influence.

There is an element of deception about Halloween, suggesting that it is all harmless fun while in reality touching on more sinister things. This is always the nature of the devil (John 8:44; Ephesians 6:11).

What this means in practice is that, as Christians, we need to tread carefully in these areas, but we do not need to be afraid because Jesus is stronger than any evil. There is no need to be paranoid about what might happen to us if we get involved in something at school or with our friends.

At the same time we shall want to help our children ask serious questions about celebrating something which has such a major emphasis on death, darkness and fear when our faith is about life, light and hope. We must be alert to the dangers of arousing an unhealthy interest in more occult areas or exposing ourselves to ideas that will move us away from Jesus. It can be hard for children to go against prevailing culture, but there is a line to be drawn somewhere – although exactly where may be something you have to work out for yourself.

Get counter-cultural

Pray together about Halloween and for those who get involved that they might find something of the light of Jesus.

Many churches organise some sort of children’s activity on 31 October as a demonstration of a different way of doing things. See below for suggested resources:

  • If you can find a decent poster on the theme of the light of the world, why not put it in your window.
  • If you are happy, and your children really want to go out or to a party in costume, create a costume that speaks about life and hope.
  • Make 31 October a really good family night – rent a good DVD, have a special meal and celebrate Jesus together. Use some short Bible readings and Christian songs. Perhaps you could share this with another family.
  • Think about what positive gifts you could give to any ‘trick or treat’ visitors.
  • Plan a Light Party and celebrate in Christian style!

[link to pages about Light party]
Adapted from Scripture Union Family Ministry Web pages.