Thinking about Halloween

Every year there is a buzz of controversy among Orthodox Christians about Halloween. It’s my observation that it largely arises between American converts, who grew up thinking Halloween is fun and harmless, and Orthodox who grew up elsewhere thinking it obviously dangerous and possibly demonic.

As in many things, I think, it’s all about the details: a little girl in a princess costume is harmless, a big teen boy pretending to be an axe murderer is another. I don’t like witchy and death-oriented themes. What if my neighbor puts a tombstone display in his front yard? I wouldn’t do that; Death is too much of an ancient enemy for Orthodox. But I wouldn’t be afraid of it, because Death has been defeated, after all. The witch-and-skull imagery is not for me, but I don’t believe it has spiritual power.

Some insist, though, that Halloween is only the newest mask over a festival that was evil, even demonic, in an earlier time. In that respect, I think Halloween is like the feasts of Christmas and Pascha/Easter, which took place at times of year (winter solstice and spring equinox) when there had long been pagan celebrations. These weren’t necessarily evil observances; people attuned to the seasons might well feel awe and gratitude as those days arrived. It might have prepared them for Christ; C S Lewis termed that sort of thing “good dreams.” But in any case, when the events of Christmas and Easter/Pascha took place, they covered over the old seasonal celebrations. Some elements that were of honest symbolic value were retained (eg, an egg already looked like new life coming out of a stone), but Christians saw the deeper truth that Christ revealed.
Halloween is similar to that, I think. If there was any distant connection to a pagan holiday, it was covered over long ago by the Western Church’s celebration of All Saint’s Day (which fell on Nov 1; Oct 31 was All Hallows’ E’en). That day was a time to love and honor the saints of God, and century after century of that observance obliterated any previous homage to evil. Western Christians have that old memory in place, but Orthodox who grew up elsewhere do not (Orthodox All Saints’ Day is the first Sunday in June). I can understand why lifelong Orthodox are appalled by the cascade of truly evil symbols and entertainment on display that day, but for us there is an innocuous side to it that we enjoy.
When did the custom arise of kids dressing up and asking for candy? I don’t know. When I was a child, it was only children who took part; by the age of 12 you no longer went trick-or-treating. Halloween has been so commercialized since then that all kinds of other elements (some indeed spiritually dangerous, like ghost hunting) have been crammed into the day. But the pagan roots of the celebration had already been blasted to pieces by the Christian meaning of All Saints.
This reminds me of a spiritually-sensitive friend of mine who went to see the King Tut museum exhibit, way back in the 70s. As she entered the exhibit she noticed the giant statues of “gods” lining the way, who had originally been set up in the tomb to prevent anyone reaching the young king’s coffin. As she passed them they looked imposing and scary, and she was aware that they must have held great spiritual power.
Then she realized that they had utterly failed to do their job. Not only had the tomb been discovered, unearthed, and shipped around the world, these “gods” themselves had been dragged out of their places and put on display, their abject powerlessness held up for all to see.
There really is spiritual power in Christ. Some battles really have been won. Yes, there is still great evil ranged against us, but alarm over Halloween sets us looking in the wrong direction. The real danger is in the daily, personal temptations we face. Sin is Death; yet we are easily kept ignorant of that, and keep snacking on sin (it is pleasant) without realizing the danger. To fight it, we need to be more aware of our weaknesses and have the humility to call on Christ’s power alone.
As for Halloween, I believe it has been tamed and defeated. When a little kid dresses in a princess costume and asks for candy, it is scathingly ridiculed.

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.


  1. Frederica,
    Thank you for the light you emit
    God bless and protect thee and those dear to your heart.


    Joyous occasions happen for one reason or another; they often have
    God-given significance. Widely accepted as truth, Hebrew festivals were not without God-given reason: The Lord will be hallowed among
    the children of Israel (Leviticus 22: 31-32/Numbers 6: 2,11).
    I am the Lord which hallow you. The Christian Church inherited the Jewish tradition of dividing each year into commemorative events,
    doctrinal remembrances, Holy Days
    (British pronunciation for Holy is H”AH”olly, giving us “Holiday”),
    or seasons throughout the year, so God’s redemptive history would continue to be re-counted. Passover (Leviticus 23: 5/March-April), Unleaven Bread (Leviticus 23: 6-8), First Fruits
    (Leviticus 23: 10), Pentecost (Leviticus 23: 16/May-June),
    New Year (Leviticus 23: 24/September-October), Day of Atonement and the Eve thereof (Leviticus 23: 27-28, 32), Ingathering
    (Leviticus 23: 34/Mid-October), and Festival of Lights
    (John 10: 22/Mid-December), are brought to completion by the Christian Church, who by using their First Century A.D. Jewish inheritance, marked Holy Days as festivals to honor Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of the former: Christ’s birth (December 25), New Year
    (January), Christ’s adult ministry (Days Lengthened/Lent), and His Atonement through His body and blood offered from His sacrificial death on the cross, and His resurrection (March-April), Pentecost and Trinity(May-November), Thanksgiving and Advent
    (Late November to Mid-December). After examining Hebrew and Christian Church years, the focus for this article will cover the one festival called “Day of Atonement” and the Christian development of “All Saints Day.”

    The Roman calendar consists of four cardinal time periods set aside for Holy Days: Autumn equinox, Winter Solstice, Vernal Equinox,
    Summer Solstice. While Jewish tradition celebrates Pentecost, and Christians celebrate the fulfillment thereof, many Romans celebrate
    the once elaborate and popular festival of Lemuria
    (9,10,13 of May). For the many who participated in Rome, Lemuria was the time to make salt cake from the first ears of wheat of the season. Lemuria was also the time to perform rites to exorcise the manevolent and fearful spirits of the dead from their homes. By A.D. 43, the Romans conquered Celtic lands
    (British Isles, Northern France). In the course of 400 years of Roman rule, the Celtic festival of death
    (Fire Festival of October 31) also included the Roman passing of the dead (Feralia) festival, and the goddess of fruit and trees (Pamona) festival, all as one festival. Pamona’s symbol was the apple.

    At the time of the Autumn equinox, the Celtic farmers brought livestock in from Summer pastures. Samhain (Sow ehn) was a time for reunion, as Celts gathered to build shelter for protection against the coming winter. Feasting took place and stories were told as part of the celebration of the dark night of the soul on October 31, the eve of the Celtic New Year (November 1). The Festival of Death celebrated the dying of nature, the setting of the seven stars of Pleiades in the constellation of Taurus, and the return of some spirits, of those who died the previous year, to their living relatives. Having not reached the nether world, wandering spirits returned to where they had once lived and died, and they would continue to haunt or shelter
    (“Haunt,” 1 Samuel 23: 22/Ezekiel 26: 17) with their living relatives until the living relatives would finally provide provisions, like wealth, food, drink, either for themselves or the god of their final destination, that were neglected, while the wandering spirit was living. Living relatives, who wanted nothing more to do with the spirit of their deceased, would costume themselves, so they would not look recognizable to the spirit, to prevent being plagued. Because the setting of Pleiades made it difficult for the Celtic Priests, called Druids, to make future predictions, the presence of wandering spirits made divining easier.

    The origin, of the name “Jack-O’-the-lantern,” initially referred to marsh lights that appear over bogs at night in Ireland. Originally, these lights over bogs were called “Will-O’-the wisps;”
    the flickering lights natural phenomena is called Ignis Fatuus, which is Latin for “Giddy flame.” Giddy means a dizzying or whirling or flighty and changeable motion which is inconstant. The Latin name “Ignis” means “Fire” and “Fatuus” is an adjective meaning “Foolish,” “Silly,” or “Simple,” which together can be translated into English as “Foolish Fire.” “Wisp” means “Torch” made of “Will (Bundle of sticks or paper).” Thus, we have
    “Will of the torch.” In earlier times, Origin-of-cause (Etiologica) relied off of folk tales to explain ignis fatuus, in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, New Foundland, and Appalachia;
    these folk tales used protagonists which were named either “Will”
    or “Jack.” Whether “Will,” or “Jack,” both follow the same folk story, but Will was given a burning coal, from the devil, to warm himself, while Jack was given a burning coal, from the devil, to light his way through the twilight, by putting his coal into a carved turnip to serve as a lantern. One version of the said tale (Shropshire) uses the name “Will” who was given a second chance to enter heaven by St. Peter, but “Will” leads such a bad life that he ends up wandering the Earth, and luring foolish travelers into marshes to drown them, but “Jack’s” tale excludes the mention of St. Peter. Aside the myth, the true energy source, of
    Will-O’-the-wisps, is from porous vegetation on the surface of marshes or bogs, and by oxidation of phosphine, diphosphane, and methane, the vegetation decays and forms a crust on the marsh surface. Organic decay can cause photon emissions, while phosphine and diphosphane mixtures ignite (Bioluminescence) when they are combined with oxygen and air.

    Death and rising, when it is in context with the work of God, can be read about in Bible passages like 2 Kings 4: 18-44
    (Child arises from death/wild gourd vine), but any other belief on death and rising is of mythical origin. A custom, that the Druids inherited from ancient Babylonia, is the practice of human and animal sacrifice on an altar of fire, and like the much earlier Babylonian practice, the priests prayed to Pleiades and other symbolic deities (Nimrod) to divine (Inquire). The Druids carried a hollowed turnip with a lighted candle made of animal or human fat. Carved into the outer core of the turnip was the image of the lighted candle named Jack (His spirit). Jack, the spirit
    (Lighted candle) in the carved turnip (Now a pumpkin), was the guide for the soul of it’s carrier, and with the lantern, hooded priests walked through the streets of the villagers, passing from house to house with special demand for food, drink, or the virgin sons or daughters of the villagers. Villagers, who intended to protect their children, costumed themselves in the likeness of the passing priests, thereby tricking the priests into thinking that they were on the doorstep of one of their own. Those villagers who did not costume themselves, did need to provide something of value, or the priest would place the carved turnip with the lighted candle, on the door post of the villager’s house, and the dwellers were cursed. Should one of the priests convince a villager for one of their children, the child was led to the sacrificial altar – The Bone Fire, from which the term “Bonfire” originates. Villagers, after they had extinguished their hearth fires earlier in the evening, gathered as part of the celebration; they would return home after the celebration and re-light their hearth with a burning object from the bone fire. Before being set on fire, the priest would carve the TAU cross on the victim (Ouroboros), and if the victim was female, ouroboros would be over the womb area as an imperfect circle, representing fermentation (Death) and re-birth from ashes (Eternity). From the agonies of the living victim, along with the way the soul departed the body, the priest divined the future of the villages. All that was left of the victim the following morning, were the bones and ashes. Irish legend has it that Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a bad-tempered man (Miser), could not enter hell because he tricked the devil, so Jack was left to walk the earth with only a coal from hell to light his lantern. This runs parallel to the Bible description of Satan’s function: Job 1: 7, Revelation 12: 9,
    Revelation 20: 7-8, 1 Peter 5: 8.

    God assures us that it is He who lives, and there remains the continued need to call on Him, not the creation, nor wandering spirits (Exodus 22: 28/1 Samuel 28: 7-25), nor bone fires
    (Deuteronomy 18: 10). The Lord turns the shadow of death
    (Setting of Pleiades) into the morning or rising of Pleiades in
    Spring (Amos 5: 8).

    Under Constantine (A.D. 325), Jewish custom of marking Holy Days were re-considered. Pope Boniface IV (May 9, 11, and 13, 610) made an effort to de-paganize the Roman Lemuria by endorsing a new Holy Day: Festival of All Saints. All Saints was a festival of remembrance and a time to hallow or honor the believers of former times who were good role models of the faith, many of whom were persecuted, torchered, or died, when they did not renounce that faith in Christ (Hebrews 11: 1-4) is completely trustworthy, because He has proven His character and power so many times in the past lives of others, that we can be confident that He will accomplish whatever He has promised for the future.

    With some success, the popularity of Lemuria faded over time, especially by the time of Pope Gregory III (A.D. 731-’34), and Pope Gregory IV (A.D. 834), when also attempts were made to de-paganize the October 31 Celtic Festival of death, and the two celebrations were abolished and became one celebration of
    “All Hallow Saints Eve,” “Hallow Even,” “Hallow E’en,” on October
    31, which is the Eve of “All Saints Day” on November 1, otherwise reminiscent of the Jewish Day of Atonement and the Eve thereof
    (Leviticus 23: 27-28, and verse 32). There was also additional re-consideration, by Churches, of the Jack-O’-Lantern, with support from the Book of the Maccabees
    (Chapter 12). In this chapter, a number of Jewish soldiers are described as having supposedly committed a mysterious sin and were killed; after their death, Judas Maccabeus who ordered prayers on their behalf, for their salvation, leaves the impression that the soldiers who died were in a hollow area – Not yet in heaven nor hell, and this area came to be understood as purgatory. The
    Jack-O’Lantern originally represented spirits present in the dark, or souls released from Christian purgatory.

    In 1517, Christian reformer – Martin Luther chose All Saints Day
    as a day to expound the Biblical meaning of the day
    (Hebrews 11: 1-40), and he charged Church hierarchy with abandoning Biblical faith, on Reformation Day (October 31).
    While Dark Night of the Soul celebrations abandoned the horror
    (See “Horror,” Genesis 15: 12/Psalm 55: 5 and 119: 53) of human or animal sacrifice, Sixteenth century Europeans did not abandon
    superstitions (Acts 17: 22 and 25: 19). Dark Night of the Soul celebrations continued, in that groups of masked adults would go door-to-door asking for food or drink or soul cakes, in response for prayers, a song or performance. “Anything for Halloween?” asked children in England.

    After Europeans brought their traditions of black cats, fire,
    witchcraft, and vampires to America (1800s), and after Haitian and African peoples brought their traditions of Voodoo, children in America made themselves known, by going door-to-door, and saying “Trick or treat,” on October 31. From the Biblical point of view,
    Satyr or Hyena (Isaiah 34: 14) appears right along with
    Screech Owl, Raven (Verse 11), and “A Leaf Falleth (Verse 4).”
    Bat occurs in Isaiah 2: 20. The imagery, used in the said Isaiah passages, are in reference to the end of paganism, and the Lord’s cutting off of all hope to pagans, when trust becomes as the spider’s web (Job 8: 13-14). Still, though the said imagery typifies the hopeless end of all false religions, the same has been retained for inclusion as decorating for “All Hallows Eve,” even though All Hallows Eve is suppose to be a day for Christian people to celebrate victory that Jesus Christ gave us over a hopeless end, and a day for us to let the message of Jesus Christ stir up our faith in God, and a day for us to be reminded, while reminding others, that family members, who died in the Lord Jesus, still speak to us through the Lord from the Scriptures, His word
    (Hebrews 11: 1-40). From this, it should be the perspective of people to not want to represent endings without hope, but endings that lead to Christ the Lord who is our only hope for a new and eternal life with Him.

    Not only Pagan imagery, which symbolizes God’s hope cut off, is included when All Saints Day arrives, but if our focus is not in the hope of the Lord, this is where the reality of fear exists.
    Humans, when they are not in God’s spirit, are the embodiment of the reality of un-Godly fear, not spirits. For instance, there are people who spread rumors on Halloween, and rumors are meant to mislead others. People who do not know the facts, will say that the most beloved celebration, by contemporary Satanists, is Halloween. Yet, the facts indicate that the most beloved celebration, by Satanists, is their own birthdays, which to Satanists is a celebration of self. Another rumor is that it is on
    Halloween when most satanic crime takes place. Yet, the facts indicate that the incidence of satanic crime, on Halloween, is very low, and the sporadic petty vandalism, desecration of graveyards and church buildings, satanic graffiti, raucous rituals that include drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity, does not carry a significant reality.

    Those who spread false rumors, fail to cover what does carry significant reality, such as the annual October 30 “Devil’s Night Fires” that were rampant in Detroit, Michigan from the 1960s to the 1990s. Devil’s Night involved the annual practice of vandalism and serious arsons, which declined when the organization referred too as “Angel’s Night,” was established. In many communities, local hospitals and police stations will screen treats free of charge, so it is not true that poisoning of treats is a significant risk if parents take sensible precautions, like restricting their children’s treats to people they know and trust.

    Christians should evaluate Halloween and determine appropriate responses. Refrain from participation that would compromise one’s faith. Some Christians may decide to completely ignore the holiday, and while not answering their door to trick or treaters, they use the holiday to have a family time, like watching Bible videos or play games. Some Christians decide to have limited but
    non-compromising participation in the holiday, by looking for ways
    to be a Christ-honoring voice: Respond to trick or treaters by including a salvation tract. Insist on a Biblical character’s costume. Many Church Harvest or Reformation Festivals allow children to dress up as farm animals, farmers, and Biblical characters. As part of preparing food baskets for the needy, one Church Youth group has a costume party (No devil’s costumes);
    they prepare food baskets during the party, ring door bells of needy people in their community, and present the food baskets with the message of salvation and an invitation to Church.

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