Does the Assemblies of God have any position on the celebration of holidays commonly observed by the general public? To what extent should Christians participate in the traditional activities of Christmas, Easter, and Halloween?
The Assemblies of God recognizes that family traditions often surround calendar holidays. Some of these traditions have spiritual significance, some are morally neutral, and some may even have a negative influence on one’s spiritual vitality. As parents rear their children, they must always be aware of the teaching and example the various traditions can have on impressionable children who are forming attitudes and life patterns. Biblical principles must be applied when such are appropriate, yet there is often disagreement as to when and how the principles are to be applied. Although such decisions must be made in respect to a number of holidays, three are particularly noteworthy: Christmas, Easter, and Halloween.
Christmas is a strange mixture of international religious and folk customs and traditions. December 25 is basically a Christian holiday, commemorating the birth of Jesus, but a secular society tries to replace the religious significance with neutral or even non-Christian symbols and customs. Neither Santa Claus nor Christmas trees have any religious significance for Christians today, though there may be some historical tie between Santa and a religious cleric centuries ago. Decorations of wreaths, candles, holly, stockings by the fireplace, etc., also have no religious significance. The exchanging of gifts is supposed to recall the gifts the wise men brought to the Baby Jesus, but that meaning, even if explained, is usually overlooked. The Santa character functions as a happy, generous, and kind grandfather figure in a way that no personification of deity or biblical characters could do. But if Santa Claus pushes Christ out of Christmas, and much of society elevates Santa and eliminates the Christ of Christmas, we have become a pagan society.
Christian parents have a major responsibility to assure that children recognize the historical, biblical priority of Christ’s birth and the fictitious nature of Santa Claus, Rudolph, and other Christmas creations. Mixing the mythical Santa Claus with the historical Christmas story hardly seems appropriate for the respect that should be given to the salvation gift of God’s only Son. Year-round regular attendance in Sunday school, with reinforcement at home, lets a young child know that the story of Jesus is real and that Santa is a fun thing for one time a year. Every Christian home should have a central reminder, such as a nativity scene, of the real meaning of Christmas. Sharing Christmas with others less fortunate, such as giving groceries and toys, will help young children learn that Christmas is as much giving as receiving.
A special concern about Christmas celebration is the excessive commercialization by the business community. Stores depend on Christmas shoppers for one-fourth of the sales they make during the entire year. What is good for the merchant, though, is often financial debt and hardship for the consumer. Neighbors must outdo neighbors in what they buy for the children. But going into debt that can negatively affect family life for the rest of the year is not the true meaning of Christmas. The true meaning should be a spiritual experience rather than passing around material trinkets.
Many of the same principles involved in celebrating Christmas also apply to the celebration of Easter. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of Christian faith. "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17). Without the Resurrection, Christmas too would be absolutely without meaning.
The Assemblies of God do not normally observe the rituals of Lent for the 40 days before Easter. Lent is viewed in churches that observe the season as a time of spiritual preparation for Easter. Fasting, doing penance, and abstaining from worldly amusements are supposed to parallel the passion and suffering of Jesus prior to and during the Crucifixion. The Assemblies of God believes in fasting, repenting, and avoiding the temptations of worldly activity, but we believe self-denial and sacrifice should be a lifestyle rather than just a special effort once a year. Many Assemblies of God pastors participate in community Holy Week activities (the week before Easter) commemorating the events of the last week of Christ’s life.
Easter does not have as many neutral or distracting traditions as Christmas has. Easter eggs and the Easter bunny which supposedly brings the eggs are the secular traditions that non-Christians frequently observe. Although these traditions have no basis in the Bible, they do have a related meaning. In cultures around the world, eggs represent the new life that returns to nature each spring. Though Easter egg hunts are a secular tradition, some Assemblies of God churches use the event to reach children and families for the Lord by including a presentation of the gospel somewhere in the event.
The same cautions about guarding the true meaning of Christmas apply to teaching children the true meaning of Easter. Emphasis must always be placed on the Resurrection and what it means for our salvation. But allowing young children the happy activity of looking for Easter candy need not detract from their learning the real meaning of Easter. Though commercialization is not as much a problem with Easter as it is with Christmas, excessive spending certainly runs counter to the self-denial and sacrifice that should be a part of the Easter season. Easter can and should be a time of spiritual renewal–new spiritual life as spring returns to nature each year.
Halloween causes a greatly magnified problem for Assemblies of God members and adherents. Many of the holiday’s nonreligious symbols and practices are not just neutral, they seem pagan or anti-Christian. On the other hand, certain symbols and activities appear to be neutral, such as pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns, grade school parties, bobbing for apples, and neighborhood "trick or treat," with no tricks whatsoever.
Many symbols and activities, however, hold potential problems for Christian families. Focusing on witches, ghosts of departed persons, evil monsters, devils, and other characters associated with the satanic should never be allowed in Christian social activities, even in innocent play. Young children and even adolescents may, through a light treatment of evil, lose some of their sensitivity to the realities of right and wrong.
Christian parents face a major problem when their young children get caught up in the excitement that friends and playmates express about Halloween parties and wearing bright costumes for a "trick or treat" visit to the homes of trusted neighbors and friends. Circumstances may vary and require different decisions by parents according to the local situation. One or two generations ago, Halloween pranks like soaping windows and overturning sheds seldom turned to breaking windows and destroying property. But in many communities, behavior has changed drastically for the worse. What parents as children once felt to be innocent fun may be something more sinister in today’s society.
There is good reason for exercising extreme caution, even when a parent may feel there is no immediate danger. Involvement in the occult usually begins with something seemingly very innocent and non-threatening. Some game pieces, like the Ouija board, can begin as child’s play but end up as flirtation with demonic powers. A curious reading of horoscopes can move into curiosity about one’s future in a way contrary to Scripture. We are to consult with no one except God about the future, yielding to His silence if He chooses not to answer. A dabbler in the mysterious and unknown can become easy prey to invasion by Satan. Inasmuch as any of these elements are a part of Halloween, the Christian must flee unwholesome curiosity, making God and His Word the source of answers about the spirit world.
Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian Christians about eating meat that had been offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8) seems to have an appropriate application to the Christian’s involvement in Halloween activities. As we abide in close fellowship with Jesus, we need never fear being overtaken by evil powers, just as the Corinthians didn’t have to fear the power of the idols to whom the meat had been sacrificed. God has already defeated Satan. But there are other considerations to be observed. The “weak” apparently thought of those who ate the meat as actually worshipping the idols to whom it had been sacrificed. For Paul, it was the concern for the “weak” that was paramount. He thought nothing of eating the meat. Some Corinthian Christians couldn’t eat the sacrificed meat without thinking about the idols. For them it was better not to eat the meat. And if some had difficulty eating the meat with a clear conscience, those for whom the meat caused no problem were to be considerate of those who had difficulty. The bottom line in all of our choices, and particularly when we wish to exercise our Christian liberty, is to be concerned about the spiritual welfare of everyone and to make our choices accordingly. We should especially be concerned about the children and youth who may not have the maturity of adult Christians.
Halloween cannot, by any stretch, be called a Christian holiday. But just as Christians in pagan societies in centuries past found reasons for Christian celebrations at the same time as the pagans were celebrating non-Christian traditions, so the church can have harvest festivals and wholesome autumn activities for its youth and children. Paul’s admonition applies to all our activities, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17).
While some Christians are adamantly opposed to allowing children to participate in trick or treat activities, others see nothing wrong with parents accompanying little children to the door of friendly neighbors. In many ways, participation is a matter of conscience since there is no biblical injunction against visiting neighbors for friendly contact. And a Christian witness can be shared with children and parents who come to the believer’s door on Halloween. The Christian response in both instances—opposed to or in favor of “trick or treat” activity—is a matter of personal conscience. Parents who do not want their children to participate in such activity should be able to take their stand without criticism, but neither should they criticize those whose conscience sees the activity as harmless if properly controlled. Likewise, the family that chooses to exercise its liberty of conscience should not find fault with those who choose not to participate. Because “trick or treating” is a matter of personal conscience, the local church should not dictate or sponsor what its members should do as Halloween activity. In all such choices, our relationship with Jesus should have priority and impact our choice on matters of conscience.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.