Halloween—that confusing mix of eeriness, morbidity, candy, trick-or-treating, and family fun. Always during this time of year, a strange thing happens among our readers. Suddenly, LDS Living becomes bombarded with comments obsessing over this holiday, but the views expressed in these comments are so contrary, it's confusing.
Some readers request more Halloween content while others fixate on the holiday's pagan origins, saying Latter-day Saints should not celebrate such a day.
This got me wondering, what has the Church officially said about Halloween?
Official Church Statements
It turns out, not much. In the Church's handbook, it states that Church units may not sponsor "activities that involve wearing masks, except in dramatic productions." In addition, decorations for ward parties or holiday celebrations should be approved by the stake president and cannot be used in the chapel or on the exterior of the building. These restrictions only broadly, not specifically, address Halloween and focus on how the holiday can be celebrated at a branch, ward, or stake level, not for individual members.
On the topic of avoiding wearing masks, Elder Quentin L. Cook explains that this principle reaches far beyond Halloween or safety hazards:
"I do believe, in our day, when being anonymous is easier than ever, that there are important principles involved in not wearing a mask and being 'true to the faith … for which martyrs have perished.' One of your greatest protections against making bad choices is to not put on any mask of anonymity. If you ever find yourself wanting to do so, please know it is a serious sign of danger and one of the adversary’s tools to get you to do something you should not do."
What Prophets and Apostles Have Said
While Church leaders have not addressed Halloween in particular, they have addressed some Satanic practices associated with this time of year. In 1989, Elder Boyd K. Packer warned young men and young women to avoid participating in dark spiritual practices, no matter the circumstances:
“A warning: there is a dark side to spiritual things. In a moment of curiosity or reckless bravado some teenagers have been tempted to toy with Satan worship. Don’t you ever do that! Don’t associate with those who do! You have no idea of the danger! Leave it alone! And there are other foolish games and activities that are on that dark side. Leave them alone!”
President James E. Faust elaborated on this same topic, saying:
"It is not good practice to become intrigued by Satan and his mysteries. No good can come from getting close to evil. Like playing with fire, it is too easy to get burned: 'The knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission' (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 373). The only safe course is to keep well distanced from him and any of his wicked activities or nefarious practices. The mischief of devil worship, sorcery, casting spells, witchcraft, voodooism, black magic, and all other forms of demonism should be avoided like the plague.
"However, Brigham Young said that it is important to 'study . . . evil, and its consequences' (Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941, pp. 256–57). Since Satan is the author of all evil in the world, it would therefore be essential to realize that he is the influence behind the opposition to the work of God."
But where does that leave us when it comes to trick-or-treating, dressing up for parties, or ward trunk-or-treats? The Family: A Proclamation to the World counsels: "Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities." Couldn't those activities include holiday traditions you share with your family?
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf adds, "In family relationships, love is really spelled T.I.M.E.” While this advice is not specific to October 31st, it provides a good guideline for any situation. Are our Halloween celebrations helping us spend time and create memories with family and friends? Do they bring the Spirit, along with fun? Do they help us seek "anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy"? Are there ways we can bring more of the virtues of the holiday into our lives?
Suggestions from Church Magazines
While no official Church statement or counsel from Church leaders address the topic of Halloween, many articles in Church magazines do highlight this topic. After carefully looking over past Church publications—from the Ensign to the Friend—I found quite a few articles focusing on Halloween.
But once again, no clear Church stance became apparent. The Friend and New Era shared many short stories of children and teens trick-or-treating, celebrating the holiday, giving friendly treats and service, or even setting up an elaborate haunted house for all their friends to tour. While these articles highlighted people indulging in some of the more frivolous traditions of Halloween, all showed how these fun activities led children and families closer to the Church, closer to each other, and closer to their Savior.
But it is true that much of the commercial holiday is focused around the morbid and mischievous. In order to still celebrate Halloween in a more gospel-oriented way, several Ensign articles have provided Latter-day Saints with suggestions that arise from personal family experiences.
For instance, Sherry Morrill shares:
When the fun and excitement of dressing up changes to “How much candy can I get?” or “I’m too big for all this kids’ stuff, but I’ve got to do something tonight,” what can parents do to change the focus of Halloween?
We held a family council with our five children, ranging in ages from seven years down to one month, and offered an alternative which has since become our own tradition: The week preceding Halloween at our family home evening we choose five families who are close to us or who need friendshipping. On Halloween day we all work together to prepare our “treat.” On Halloween night each child delivers the treat to one of the families. Then we all go out together for ice cream or a movie.
In 1996, a Church member wrote into the Ensign sharing a question she had that plagues many Latter-day Saint parents: "I am bothered by certain activities associated with Halloween. How can parents make Halloween a fun time while avoiding practices and behaviors that may grieve the Spirit?"
The response provided many helpful suggestions, but a disclaimer at the beginning of the article made it clear the answer was meant to provide "guidance" and not be "official statements of Church policy."
"When my husband and I joined the Church early in our marriage, we felt a need to improve our behavior, including the way we celebrated holidays. We made Christmas and Easter more Christ-centered. New Year’s Eve became more goal oriented. And Halloween? Well, Halloween was a challenge. . . . [W]e began to wonder whether some Halloween practices were pleasing to the Lord, given that Latter-day Saints are to seek after that which is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (A of F 1:13).
"As our children grew, we became increasingly wary of the role models we presented to them. We recognized that the portrayal of evil might be necessary in telling a story but that experimenting with evil and its appearance, even for 'fun,' could be harmful.
"We have found that it is not necessary to avoid Halloween festivities altogether. With a little planning, Halloween can be a fun family time. But as we gauge our behavior by the light of scriptures and modern revelation, we can set a proper example for our children and others as we heed the Lord’s admonition to 'chase darkness from among [us]' (D&C 50:25).
What Latter-day Saints Believe About Halloween
While the Church takes a clear stance on avoiding evil practices, Satan worship, or any other activities that take us further from Christ's light, it takes no stance on Halloween.
Just as with many other holidays and traditions, the Church does not dictate how Latter-day Saints should celebrate Halloween. Instead, our Church leaders leave it up to each of us to seek inspiration, ponder, and decide how we should celebrate this holiday with our families. Each family is unique and the traditions that bring each family together will be equally unique, meaning not every Latter-day Saint will agree on what Halloween means and how it should be celebrated. So give each family room to decide what is best for them, respect their individuality, withhold judgment, and celebrate the fact that there are many ways to have righteous fun.