Celebrating Death: Halloween, Paganism, and the Bible

By Richard Young | Posted October 24, 2023

Every year from October 31 to November 2, many Mexicans don festive costumes and paint their faces to resemble skulls. They also build elaborate altars, “ofrendas,” for honoring the dead. A typical ofrenda will be decorated with candles, sugar skulls, food offerings, and pictures of the deceased, all surrounded by orange marigolds. The flowers are said to attract the departed soul to the altar, allowing the dead and the living to celebrate together.

The origin of Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, goes back some 3,000 years to the Aztecs, who honored the deceased by providing them food, water, and tools for their difficult journey through the afterlife. With the coming of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, the Aztec tradition became overshadowed by two Catholic holidays, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, celebrated respectively on the first and second days of November.

Today, nearly every country in the world has a holiday that can be traced to an earlier culture’s misunderstanding of death. Should Christians be involved in these pagan traditions? 

Trick or Treat

The issue of such cultural celebrations leads to the question that many Christians ask about Halloween. After all, tarantulas on tombstones, pumpkins with sinister grins, and witches casting spells cannot possibly be in harmony with the apostle Paul’s words, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippian 4:8).

In one sense, therefore, Halloween is an easy one for Christians. All one has to do is Google it to realize just how pagan it is. Which is why many don’t want to be involved with this holiday. How many Christians on Tuesday, October 31, will turn off the porch light and sit this one out as the trick-or-treaters canvass the community?

Yet many Christians are oblivious to other pagan aspects of Western culture (in every culture, actually), including some that might impact how they practice their faith. We would all probably be surprised at how many pagan customs have been incorporated into Christianity. Not all are as blatantly clear as Halloween—and just because something has a pagan background doesn’t mean it remains pagan today. However, being aware of these things helps us make informed decisions when responding to the culture.

Paganism Among Us

Take, for example, the English names for each day of the week, which come from various pagan gods. What Christian has a problem talking about Thursday, from the Norse god of thunder, Thor; or Saturday, from the Roman god, Saturn; or Friday, from Freya, the Norse goddess of love and fertility; or Tuesday, from the Germanic god Tu, the god of war? We use them all the time; it’s harmless enough, even though you don’t find these terms in the Bible.

Or what about birthday celebrations? The presenting of birthday gifts “is a custom associated with the offering of sacrifices to pagan gods on their birthdays. The traditional birthday cake also has its origin in ancient idol worship. They believed that the fire of candles had magical proprieties.” Apparently, in the early centuries of the church, Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays precisely because of their pagan roots. Even today, one Christian sect doesn’t celebrate them for that reason.

Or how about the Olympics? Even if you don’t follow them, most Christians don’t worry about their pagan origins. Most everyone knows that they began in ancient Greece, but do they know why? “The games were originally held in honor of Zeus, king of the Olympians. … Athletes made regular sacrifices to Zeus in hopes that he would recognize them and honor them for their skill and talents.” Olympic athletes don’t do that today, of course, but its origins are thoroughly pagan.


“Christian” Holidays

Hitting a little closer to home for Christians is Easter. While Christians celebrate it as a commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus, one could ask: What do bunny rabbits and dyed eggs have to do with the resurrection? Nothing. Rabbits and eggs are associated with fertility, going back to a pagan celebration of new life in the spring, which happened to coincide with the biblical Passover. 

Thus, the two celebrations were simply combined. Though Christians who celebrate Easter (some don’t) might not focus on rabbits and eggs, they should at least be aware of the pagan origins of these symbols.

And, yes, many Christians celebrate Christmas even if most know that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. Instead, the ancient Romans were sun worshipers, celebrating the “rebirth of the sun” during the winter solstice. By the fourth century, this pagan holiday, under Constantine, the first “Christian” emperor, had been melded with the Christian commemoration of Jesus’ birth. If Christians keep the focus on Jesus instead of the pagan symbols, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas. It’s an opportunity to share the meaning of His birth with the world.

The Deeper Issue

When it comes to holidays with pagan roots, the deeper issue for Christians should be the pagan view of the afterlife—the immortality of the soul. This view originated with the serpent when he said, “You shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence in Scripture that death is a dreamless sleep from which we awake at one of two resurrections (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28, 29), many Christians still hold to a belief that was adopted by the medieval church from Greco-Roman culture. When God said, “You shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17), which began to happen when He separated us from the tree of life (3:22‒24), it became evident that He “alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16). 

This is why Christians should reject holidays like the Day of the Dead and Halloween. If the soul does not die (Ezekiel 18:20) but continues living apart from the body, the possibility of communicating with those souls—something the Bible strongly condemns (Leviticus 20:6)—becomes an enticing deception. The Day of the Dead, according to its celebrants, is the only time of year they can visit their deceased relatives. Halloween takes a different approach, with its sinister spirits haunting the living. Either way, demons are given the opportunity to impersonate departed people.

To learn more about the pagan practices among us, including Halloween, you can read Joe Crews’ short book “Baptized Paganism.”

Listen to Celebrating Death: Halloween, Paganism, and the Bible below
Richard Young
Richard Young is a writer for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.

When you post, you agree to the terms and conditions of our comments policy.

If you have a Bible question for Pastor Doug Batchelor or the Amazing Facts Bible answer team, please submit it by clicking here. Due to staff size, we are unable to answer Bible questions posted in the comments.
To help maintain a Christian environment, we closely moderate all comments.

  1. Please be patient. We strive to approve comments the day they are made, but please allow at least 24 hours for your comment to appear. Comments made on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday may not be approved until the following Monday.

  2. Comments that include name-calling, profanity, harassment, ridicule, etc. will be automatically deleted and the invitation to participate revoked.

  3. Comments containing URLs outside the family of Amazing Facts websites will not be approved.

  4. Comments containing telephone numbers or email addresses will not be approved.

  5. Comments off topic may be deleted.

  6. Please do not comment in languages other than English.

Please note: Approved comments do not constitute an endorsement by the ministry of Amazing Facts or by Pastor Doug Batchelor. This website allows dissenting comments and beliefs, but our comment sections are not a forum for ongoing debate.