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A town has changed its name to “Hauntington” at the urging of a seven-year-old.
Second grader Angelica Dee Cunningham wrote to the town council of Huntington, New York, suggesting that they make the switch for Halloween. To her surprise, they agreed.
Their decision may be a parable for our culture today.
Americans are not unique in celebrating Halloween. Romania has a Day of Dracula; Japan stages a giant parade; children in the Philippines go door to door to ask for prayers for those in Purgatory.
Nor do we devote more time and money to Halloween than other holidays. We will spend $9 billion this year on costumes, candy, and decorations. However, our Halloween spending pales in comparison to our spending on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, and Christmas.
Nonetheless, I believe Halloween may reveal more about American culture than any other holiday. Here’s why.
How many Americans will participate in Halloween?
“Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Eve,” the evening before All Saints’ Day. Tomorrow, the Catholic Church will focus on the saints of the Church. This tradition began in AD 609 and encourages participants to remember and emulate the heroes of the faith.
Tonight, by contrast, the focus will be strikingly different. Fifteen million American adults will dress in costumes; witches are most popular, followed by vampires, zombies, and pirates. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, you’ve been haunted by ghosts, skeletons, and dragons for weeks.
Some 69 percent of Americans plan to participate in Halloween today. Since that is three times the percentage of Catholics in America, it is clear that far more people will observe Halloween than All Saints’ Day.
What two mistakes do we make about the devil?
My point transcends popularity, however. How much time do Americans really focus on being thankful at Thanksgiving? How much attention do we really give Jesus on Christmas Day?
By contrast, fascination with the figures of Halloween is clearly on the rise in America.
Witches made national headlines when they gathered to “hex” Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The US witch population has seen an “astronomical rise,” according to one report. Recent studies indicate that Wicca is now the fastest growing religion in America.
Satanism is growing in our culture as well. Satanist students at Clemson University recently held a “Bible torching” ceremony. A member of the so-called Satanic Temple was allowed to make an opening prayer to Lucifer at a local council meeting in Alaska.
C. S. Lewis: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
What is the lure of the occult?
Dressing our children in innocuous costumes and taking them to the neighbors to collect candy is a fun tradition. Participating in occult practices, today or any other day of the year, is both sinful and perilous.
The lure of the occult is simple: power. It is another version of Satan’s first temptation: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Horoscopes and fortune-tellers promise the ability to predict and control the future. Occult rituals claim to offer an empowering connection with spiritual forces.
The explosion of fascination with astrology and the occult is not surprising. Researchers connect such interest directly to stress, noting that we search for comfort and coherence in times of chaos and confusion. And the power and pleasure offered by occult practitioners appeal to our existentialist, consumeristic culture.
But Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). His resume is simple: he “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He wants to attack God but cannot (Revelation 12:9), so he attacks those God loves as “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
All he offers costs far more than it pays. I’ve quoted many times the maxim, “Sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay.” If you think you’re the exception, you’re being deceived.
That’s why God’s word forbids all occult practices (cf. Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:10; Isaiah 8:19; Micah 2:5; Revelation 21:8). And it’s why our Father calls us to “give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27).
What causes the devil to flee from us?
Let’s redeem Halloween by using today as an opportunity for ministry. In a time when it can be hard to know our neighbors, this is one day when they come to us. Pray about ways you can use this day to build relationships with them. A smile, a kind word, a “God bless you,” perhaps an introduction and conversation can build bridges for the gospel in months to come.
Let’s also use this day to remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12).
In this battle, we have two jobs: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). When we submit to God, only then can we resist the devil. And only then will he flee from us.
Will Satan flee from you today?