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A Christian debate over Halloween: Counter, co-opt, or embrace it?
October 28th, 2011
02:30 PM ET

A Christian debate over Halloween: Counter, co-opt, or embrace it?

Editor's note: Listen to the CNN Radio broadcast about the debate: By Jim Roope, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) - For many American Christians, Halloween is innocent, harmless and fun, and they trick-or-treat, carve pumpkins and don costumes with gusto.

For others, though – especially for some conservative and fundamentalist Christians - Halloween is a celebration of evil and has no place in the life of a believer.

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“We don’t endorse that or we don’t celebrate that,” said Joe Hernandez, pastor of Worshipwalk Church in Los Angeles, which belongs to the conservative Pentecostal tradition. “People are celebrating the devil’s holiday.”

Halloween’s roots are believed to date back 1,400 years, to the Irish-pagan New Year’s celebration. The Celtic New Year began on November 1. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts and evil spirits.

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Some Christians, like Hernandez, believe Halloween’s pagan roots can open the door to evil. That’s why Worshipwalk is hosting a harvest festival in its church parking lot on Monday, with kids’ games and face painting.

Hernandez calls it harvesting hearts for God.

Some conservative churches go a step further, attempting to co-opt the holiday with haunted houses - called “hell houses” - that are designed to give a glimpse of eternal damnation in hopes of strengthening faith.

“There’s Satan’s lies and there’s Jesus’ redemption and there’s a message that will change your life,” said Keenan Roberts, who says he is the inventor of the hell house, which people walk or call through, just as they would a haunted house.

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“It’s designed to reach the ‘sight and sound’ age,” said Roberts. “The message is sacred but the method is not.”

Hell houses can be graphic. In Roberts’ hell house – which he markets through his Hell House Ministries – live actors depict scenes of abortion, rape, suicide and murder, though the journey through the house culminates in scenes of redemption through Jesus.

Pastor of the fundamentalist New Destiny church near Denver, Colorado, Roberts said that his ministry has received a lot of criticism for what critics say is “going too far.”

But he said today’s kids are so desensitized that he will do whatever it takes to get the message of salvation to take root.

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Mainline Protestants tend to take a much softer line on Halloween, with some mainline churches embracing it.

“Halloween for me is a time to have fun,” said Wayne Walters, pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Burbank, California. “I remember growing up - on Halloween I went trick-or-treating. I was in it for the candy.”

“And at Christmas I put out cookies and milk for Santa Claus, who always took time to sit down and enjoy them,” he continued. “None of those I think had a negative influence, destroyed or diminished my faith, he said.”

Walters says that many non-religious traditions associated with Christian holidays, including Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, hardly mean those holidays are non-Christian.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Halloween

soundoff (3,144 Responses)
  1. Guest

    No need for anyone to get all hot under the collar. This is just an article designed to get the atheists to crawl out of the woodwork and attack the rightwinged evangelicals. If anyone sees it as anything more than just this, then you are just plain stupid.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I think it's some kind of study, to see what the evangelicals are really interested in. 421 comments on a story about people who murdered a child based on biblical commands. 2936 on the evils of Halloween. It doesn't paint a pretty picture.

      October 30, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  2. PCK

    I'm going as a fossil

    October 29, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  3. Kent Bowen

    There is no "Christian debate." The only "debate" is among the individuals who choose to contribute to this non-story.

    October 29, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • anonymous

      Try living in the South. Many will disagree.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  4. Michael

    I am surprised by how poorly researched this article is. Halloween is traced back to the celebration of All Saints Day started in 731 and All Souls days in 998 by the Catholic Church, hence the name All Hallows Eve or the night before All Hallows Day aka All Saints Day. So Halloween is clearly a Christian holiday started as a celebration to remember the many Christian martyrs in the early days of the church and eventually included all saints and all souls who have died on earth but have not been recognized as saints. Now dressing up in customes, trick or treating, carving pumpkins are all secular traditions that over time became associated with the holiday no different than decorating trees on Christmas or looking for eggs on Easter. LittleDixieChuck's comment is very well researched and written and I hope everyone gets a chance to read it, definitely a lot better than this CNN article.

    October 29, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Donovan

      Haloween is a CHRISTIAN holiday?!?

      Sorry. Christians took over a pagan holiday ... just like they did with Christmas, Easter, etc. So-called "Christian" holidays are a farce. They virtually ALL have pagan origins and were designed to create more converts.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  5. Marijuana

    We are all atheists about most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one further.

    October 29, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  6. ZECKAD

    Regardless what's fact about any "holiday" Americans know, they will still justify celebrating them. The economy is in the tank, but still gullible people still have to spend, knowing it's a lie. Anything to party and get drunk, Americans will do. Most have no idea what the "holiday" is all about, just a day off and a reason to party and get drunk. America has more "holidays" than any country on earth. The Chinese economy is trying, one has to wonder why. For this to be such a "Christian" nation it honors the most Pagan and God dishonoring "holidays". For the record, I am an American of like parents born in the great state of NY, I am just one of the many more Americans who call it as it is.

    October 29, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Donovan

      Blame your own religious leaders for that. It was intentional. The catholic church has a really bad history of "taking over" Pagan holidays and trying to claim them as their own.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  7. Rich

    Please no more christians trying to run everybodys life...fake fun = religion

    October 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      Please no more jews trying to run everybodys life...fake fun = religion

      October 29, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Krystal

      No one is telling anyone not to celebrate Halloween. The article is talking about how some christians do not celebrate it. I am a christian parent and we celebrate halloween. We also have fun with the secular aspects of Christmas and Easter such as Santa and the Easter Bunny. I try to emphasize the love of Christ in my children when it comes to exhibiting my faith to them. I don't get all hung up in the dos and don'ts because that is not what the Christian faith is about. There are secular traditions that go along with holidays that are just a beautiful, special time of childhood. Secular doesn't always mean evil. My children are well aware of the christian meaning of Christmas and Easter. That is emphasized very clearly in my house. Christians aren't all solemn and pious. Most of us enjoy life and like to have fun.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Krystal, not celebrating Halloween is exactly the message being pushed by fundamentalists. Towns now have rescheduled parades and trick-or-treating so that they are no longer on October 31st, and some HOAs now consider trick-or-treating solicitation, punishable as trespassing. In the grand scheme of things, this may not seem like a big deal, but it's a little more eroding the concept of neighborhoods and community. When was the last time YOU met the kids that live on the next block?

      October 29, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • AGuest9

      BTW, if you are out and run into a fundie family standing on the street corner in their Sunday best, take one of their little pamphlets or "comic books" home and read it. You will likely be disturbed by what they would like to "teach" your children about going to he.ll for a piece of candy.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  8. popeye1128

    Just a fun time of the year during the Fall season and some want to poo on it. Get over it.

    October 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  9. Mary Davis

    I take no sides. Halloween is meant for children ages 12 and under. Children only want the candy and enjoy seeing what their
    friends are wearing. That's a good thing. Let the little ones have their fun. They will grow up quickly enough. Same with
    Christmas, let the little ones enjoy their imaginations and let them have all the fun their little hearts can hold. Parents: know
    where your children are at all times, especially during these celebrations. Everyone can have fun as long as everyone knows the
    boundaries. Happy Halloween and Merry Christmas to everyone!

    October 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  10. Bill

    Why can't you just let kids be kids and enjoy a fun holiday??

    October 29, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • *frank*

      The same reason they can't let kids be kids and have fun on Sunday, and have to drag them into their creepy churches: they're Christian. Christianity is heavily anti-life in all its core concepts and codes.

      October 29, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Lawrence

      I just got back from a Fall Festival at my church and all of us had fun, adults and children alike. We did an Indiana Jones theme. We're not trying to spoil Halloween for anyone. If I lived in Independence Kansas I would be attending the Neewollah festivities. The Wickens using Saturday, Sunday, and Monday this week as their high holy days and us Christians didn't want to be associated with the Wickens.

      October 29, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • *frank*

      That sounds nice. Did you have separate drinking fountains for different races?

      October 29, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  11. D Russell

    "According to bible scholars Christ was not even born in December. Easter: Pagan fertility celebration merged with the Resurrection of Christ originally named for the goddess of fertility "Aster" subsequently changed to "Easter." Halloween: All Hallows Day Eve, never in history attached to the devil Satan, or Beelzebub"

    This is the truth – all other opinions are irrelivant.

    October 29, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Michael H

      yeah, yeah, yeah...MY truth is THE truth and no other truth is true...whatever...

      October 29, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  12. Andrew

    Halloween isn't nearly as scary as religious extemism in the United States.

    October 29, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Barb

      AMEN!

      October 29, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • NightCelt

      That's right.

      October 29, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  13. *frank*

    Sexually frustrated pea-brains sure produce some odd ideas....

    October 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  14. merecat

    If ones don't want to celebrate it.. OK, I don't care to.. too big on Satan and all his trappings but if others do, it's their prerogative.

    October 29, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • popeye1128

      Really curious about this idea. Where does Satan really come into the American Halloween? Corpses walking?
      I guess I'm ignorant but I never associated Halloween with Satan. Definitely not the American version. Sure, some people dress up as the devil for fun but it is not like they are saying be a Satanist.
      I think some are giving the day way too much power and it is the extreme religious folks who are doing so.

      October 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  15. James Hill

    No debate....if you don't want to participate in All Hallows Eve, fine. But, don't force your right-wing views on anyone else.

    October 29, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • RC

      Agreed!!! But when will the left quit forcing their views on us?

      October 29, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Barb

      Can't we all just get along?

      October 29, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  16. Jen

    Interesting that the one pagan holiday that's still around causes so much trouble. But, ironically, a "harvest festival" is the same thing as celebrating Halloween – it was originally a celebration of the end of the harvest. I'm a Buddhist and I celebrate plenty of holidays that have nothing to do with Buddhism – mainly because Buddhist holidays are boring (oops, did I just type that?). I hope everybody has a good time at their Halloween party/harvest festival/trunk or treat/whatever.

    October 29, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  17. Leigh

    Christians have the right to choose non-participation in Halloween. If you want to erroneously link an ancient Celtic festival with your modern concept of Satan, you go right ahead. Leave the rest of us alone, please.

    Sort of like the killjoys who not only choose (for various reasons) not to celebrate Christmas, but do their best (or worst, depending on your point of view) to ruin it for the rest of us. I will wish EVERYONE a "Merry Christmas" this year, just as I've been wishing everyone a safe and Happy Halloween, thank you very much.

    October 29, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • popeye1128

      Well said. Now I will pray to my pet rock.
      Sure would be a better world if everyone didn't try to enforce their personal ideology on others. Just deal with it as long as nobody is being hurt. I honestly don't think Halloween is hurting anyone unless one is a wacko and gets crazy over the idea. But that is true for most of our traditions.

      October 29, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Mike

      Almost all Christian holidays are co-opted from Pagan Rites. Ridiculous that they would associate the Celtic New Year / Harvest Festival with the devil... Typical Christian brain washing and ignorance. Try reading books instead of burning them.

      October 29, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  18. Leonid Brezhnev

    Don't write over two sentences. The sheep's attention span can't last any longer than that.

    October 29, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  19. James

    Every year it's the same thing.
    Just don't do it then if it's so offensive for you. This is america though and just cope if other people like it.
    Honestly nobody cares if you abstain from halloween. LOL Talk about petty grievances. Wow.

    October 29, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  20. LittleDixieChuck

    The origins of Halloween may be debated. Personally, I find the origins of Halloween in the ancient Christian celebration of All Saints Day, which remembered all of the (Christian) dead who had died in a state of grace. NOTE: All Saints Day, or All Souls Day, was observed in corners of Europe that had never seen a Druid and that were far removed from Ireland and the British Isles. Within the English world, November was also called "All Hallows," and the night before, "All Hallows' Evening," which eventually was abbreviated to "Halloween." Given the popular folk theology of the Middle Ages, it was thought that the spirits and ghosts of the dearly departed went about on that evening. In time, the date, while Christian in origin, became wed with bonfires, etc., which were of pagan origin, so that contemporary observances of Halloween reflect both Christian and pagan roots. Knowing what a number of historians believe to be the Christian origin of the core of Halloween, and as a professing Christian, I have always encouraged my children to don costumes and trick or treat and have innocent fun on October 31. That said, I do have a word for my fellow believers who do not allow their children to observe the day in traditional ways. I believe that we can debate the facts about All Saints Day and Halloween and conclude that they have primarily Christian roots. What is not up for debate is that December 25, the day we observe as Christmas in American Catholicism and Protestantism, has purely pagan roots in the ancient Roman feast of the Saturnalia, which was linked with the winter solstice, dated at December 25 on the ancient Roman calendar, and which lasted twelve days. If you as a Christian do not allow your kids to dress up as ghosts and hobos on October 31 because you believe that the day is pagan in origin, then please be logically consistent and do not let them observe Christmas on December 25, either. This also means: do not observe December 25 as the date of Christ's birth in your churches. Of all of the days in the year on which Jesus might have been born, December 25 is one of the least likely. Unlike Halloween, which reasonable people may debate and interpret differently, December 25's pagan roots is a no-brainer. If you don't observe Halloween, it's straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel to observe December 25 as Christmas.

    October 29, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • l

      personally I think people have way too much time on their hands and need some crusade to go after. Kids are in it for the candy not the devil worship. I think its the super religious crusaders that make this an issue and ruin the innocent fun kids
      want to have. Kids grow up way to fast today...let them have this one!

      October 29, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • bpadraig

      All seasonal holidays have a pagan origin. Christians co-opted all of them because that is how you convert people. See I did it in one tenth of the words.

      October 29, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • FSilvermane

      The "Pagan roots" of Halloween come from harvest celebrations [usually week long] and corresponds with the end of the harvest [all was reaped and stored and ready for the upcoming Winter], when mercantile trade deals were made between tribes for the upcoming year, and when warfare was to end as winter was coming making it difficult to travel/fight. The Celtic tribes [Irish and Scottish] called it Samhuinn or Sauin [as both referred to the month corresponding to our November as Samhain]. Other tribes of pre-Christian man had similar festivals around the same time because there too the Harvest would end around this time,..there too Winter was closing in and travel was unsafe,..so they too celebrated the end of the year [many civilizations worked their "year" around the Harvest times] and this even reached into Asia. My contention is not so much that Christianity [a latecomer religion in my eyes] stole the Holiday as much as they had their festivals at that time for similar reasons and over time [thanks to Rome] they tried to incorporate the "Pagan" festivals.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Donovan

      Samhain WAY predated All Saints Day. Sorry.

      October 29, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • Michael

      For a good read on the Catholic Church's history of All Saints Day go to http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0199.html. Article discussed the history of when NOV 1 was chosen as well as some of the other pagan holidays around that same date.

      October 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.