Grave Deceptions: Halloween in America

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted October 15, 2018

Children trick or treating

Even those who believe there is nothing actually scary about Halloween—the annual holiday celebrating ghosts, ghouls, and witches—might be surprised to learn this: Some 157 million Americans participated in Halloween activities in 2015. That’s just under half the population of the country and is 12 percent greater than the 117.2 million people who attend religious worship services every week.

According to the National Retail Federation, 2018 promises to be a banner year for Halloween spending: Total outlays will reach $9 billion. Of that, some $3.2 billion will go to costumes, $2.7 billion for decorations, and $2.6 billion on candy. No figures were provided for the subsequent dentist’s bills, but it’s estimated that $400 million will be spent this year on greeting cards for Halloween.

And while 59 percent of Americans, according to a 2015 survey by LifeWay Research, believe the annual observance “is all in good fun,” 35 percent either ditch Halloween observances altogether or at least “try to avoid the pagan elements” of the celebration.

According to a 2015 report in the Tampa Bay Times newspaper in Florida, Halloween is the “anti-Christmas … a holiday that thrives on creativity.” One enthusiast, Allison Kay from Pasco County, put it this way: “Christmas is great and it’s fun to be around family, but those holidays feel so commercial now. Halloween is the day you get to go out and be weird. [There are] no family obligations, no family photos to look nice for.”

Halloween and Comic-Con

The newspaper also quoted Jeff Green, a retail industry analyst in Phoenix, Arizona, who pointed to the commercial aspects of the holiday. “It’s almost like Halloween has become the extension of Comic-Con,” Green explained, referring to the annual comics conventions held across the nation, drawing thousands of “super fans” in costume. “That’s gotten so much visibility and buzz over the years, it’s beginning to translate into Halloween venues, and they can charge more money because of it.”

Let’s recap: It’s a fun holiday for kids and the not-so-young who get to dress up in funny or scary costumes for a night. They either go out and collect candy from the neighbors or, if adults, they go to parties and let loose.

Those may not sound like activities a Christian would want to join, but what’s the harm?

The Origins of Halloween

Well, stop and think about this for a moment. As the History Channel notes, Halloween has its origins in an ancient Celtic festival called “Samhain,” pronounced “sow-in.” It signaled the end of summer and the harvest season and the start of winter. The Celts believed October 31 was the evening when the spirits of the departed dead returned to earth.

Interestingly, the spread of Catholicism into the former Celtic lands did not eliminate Samhain. It was merely rechristened “All Souls’ Day” and celebrated on November 2. The celebration was called “All-hallowmass,” and the night-before observance once known as Samhain eventually morphed into our modern word “Halloween.”

What’s more, a significant percentage of Americans say that the notion of ghosts being real isn’t beyond their scope of belief. According to the Pew Research Center, 18 percent of Americans—nearly one in five—say they’ve seen a ghost or been in the presence of one. “An even greater share—29 [percent]—say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died,” the Pew report added.

So perhaps this whole Halloween thing is more than just an excuse for excessive sugar consumption. If it’s related to traditions that teach the ability to “communicate” with the dead, and if it makes us more comfortable with the notion of ghosts roaming the earth, perhaps this is something a thoughtful Christian should reconsider.

Halloween and the Bible

The BibleThe Bible, which contains God’s guidance for our lives, offers straight answers about the state of the dead. The Scriptures plainly teach, “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5). “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

What should Christians do? You can read our blog 5 Guidelines to Help Christians Navigate the Halloween Maze to find meaningful alternatives that can help families when everyone else is wrapped up in the festival.

“When you look behind the veil, the idea that we need to fear the spirits of the dead is pretty diabolical,” says Pastor Doug in this Bible Answers Live program explaining the origins of Halloween. If you want to know more about the Bible’s perspective, you’ll want to give this insightful program a listen!

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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