Next week well-dressed goblins and ghosts will be skirting your neighborhoods demanding treats or threatening tricks. Over the years, many Christians have scratched their chins wondering what to do about this anything-but-Christian occasion. Most believers have this gnawing suspicion that something is definitely wrong with a day devoted to occultish symbols, but are at a loss to know what to do about it.
It doesn't take a specialist on the occult to discover that the day originated in Ireland and Scotland with the Celtic and Druid pagans. They believed the most active night of the spirit world was New Year's Eve, which according to their calendar fell on October 31. On that day every year Chron, the sun god, died. Samhain, their god of the dead, could bring back to life Chron, but only if people would sacrifice innocent blood.
Most Halloween symbols reflect these pagan origins. The jack-o-lantern, for instance, originally was a large turnip or skull with a candle in it. Some believe the fearsome face represented Samhain, who would drive off less powerful spirits. Others say the terror-stricken face represented a man named Jack whose soul wandered about between heaven and hell, unable to reside in either.
Similarly, trick-or-treating originated when people dressed in costumes in order to fool the evil spirits about their true identity, and thus cheat death and avoid the wrath of Samhain. People went "asouling" to neighbors, demanding favors and food and threatening to cast a spell if their demands were not met.
So what are christians to do with such a holiday? Should we ignore the day, hide with our families in our darkened basements, and hope no one will ring the doorbell? Should we worry that our children, who see their friends and classmates dressing up (what kid doesn't like to dress in costumes?) and eating all that candy, will come to the conclusion that Christianity is boring?
There is a way to redeem this day for the glory of God. On this date (the evening before All Soul's Day on Nov. 1) 480 years ago in Wittenburg, Germany, a brilliant and brave German monk posted 95 serious grievances he had with the existing church. Out of the nailing up of these grievances grew the Protestant Reformation. The monk's name was Martin Luther. The year, 1517.
Many of the accepted (and often ignored) distinctives of biblical Christians come from this era: sola scriptura (Scripture alone versus the traditions of the church); Christ alone (as mediator between God and man); by grace alone (God alone is responsible for our salvation); justification by faith alone (we cannot earn our way to God's favor-Luther tried); and to God alone be the glory.
How can we teach these truths to our children? One way would be a Reformation Party on October 31-that is Friday this year.
Have everyone dress up as Bible characters or reformers. People can act out their characters and let others try to guess who they are. Play games like "Pin the 95 theses on the Wittenburg Door." Run relays with the goal of throwing the indulgence in the trash can. Tell stories. Your best story-teller can describe one of the many exciting "scenes" from Luther's life: his conversion, his posting of the theses, his testimony before the pope. The possibilities are endless.
This can be one of the most fun, educational, and enjoyable nights of the year. My children love to plan who they will dress up as each Oct. 31st. They anticipate how they will act out their Bible stories. They are enthralled by the heroic stories of the Reformers.
Let's give the devil his due this Oct. 31st: Instead of hiding in the corner, let's enjoy a Reformation Day celebration.
Brad Winsted is director of Children's Ministry International.