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The ancient Celtic festival called Samhain is considered by many to be a predecessor of Halloween. Samhain was the Celtic New Year's Day celebrated on 1 November. The eve and day of Samhain was a time when it was believed the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds crumbled, and the souls of the dead visited earthly inhabitants.
Finding the shadows of the evil customs of Halloween abhorrent, many Christians have sought to sanitize the holiday by integrating religious symbols with which they are more familiar and comfortable (this process is called syncretism). Some, for example, carve the name Jesus onto pumpkins and add religious phrases in the hopes of evangelizing those who go trick-or-treating.
Others have undertaken a more elaborate revision of the holiday, attempting to turn it into a harvest festival interwoven with Christian themes and devoid of its more obvious pagan overtones. Church basements are turned into carnivals featuring games, contests and, of course, candy.
What should you do in deciding how you will approach this hotly debated issue?
The fundamental argument in favor of mixing ancient pagan customs and practices with the worship of God is that some believe it is an effective way to gradually win people over to Christian understanding. (Of course, in the present world we should ask ourselves why people who already see themselves as Christian would find any need to continue associations with pagan religious customs.)
This is sometimes a hotly disputed subject, and sincere people have concluded it indeed is useful to integrate the practices of ancient religious customs with the worship of God.
But perhaps we should address a fundamental question: What does God advise?
There is a scriptural precedent that offers guidance and direction for those who accept the Bible's instruction. The Israelites were confronted with these issues as they settled and built a new nation in the Promised Land. They encountered many worshipers of pagan deities as they entered the land and for centuries faced the problem as they dealt with neighboring peoples.
Even before they entered the land, God revealed His thinking and told them how to handle this challenge. His directions were explicit: "When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed that you are not ensnared to follow them ... Do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods ... Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).
God's instructions are crystal clear. He refuses to accept worship that is compromised and tainted by customs used in the worship of fraudulent religion. He expects His worshipers to revere Him in accordance with His commands, not their own imaginings.
Many centuries later the apostle Paul expressed a similar thought when correcting some in the church in Corinth for their poor judgment. "What partnership can righteousness have with wickedness?" he asked. "Can light associate with darkness? Can Christ agree with [the devil] ...? Can there be a compact between the temple of God and idols? And the temple of the living God is what we are" (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, Revised English Bible).
The modern debate over Christianizing pagan worship customs could be resolved simply by reading and heeding God's plainly expressed will.
The Good News magazine (Sep-Oct 2000)