Halloween has its origins in Druidism; it was originally a festival celebrated by Celts at the beginning of winter. An adequate treatment of it probably requires a study of Celtic culture. We don't have time for that, except to note that the Celts were an early Indo-European people who occupied territory from Britain and Spain in the west to Asia Minor in the east. In the English-speaking world, Irishmen, Welshmen, Cornishmen, and Scottish Highlanders are said to be descended from the Celts.
The Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics deals with the Celtic calendar and notes that the year was divided into two unequal halves, summer and winter.
The winter half of the Celtic year began on Samhain (pronounced Sah-win) eve, that is, on October 31. Samhain was a festival of the beginning of winter and was intended (says Hastings) "to assist the powers of growth in their conflict with winter's death." But Samhain seems to have been the occasion for other festivals as well, including the festival of beginnings, and a harvest festival. Accordingly, it was at once an orgiastic feast (as were all primitive festivals of beginnings), and a festival of the dead. Halloween retains customs from both aspects of the Samhain celebration.
The old Halloween custom of throwing nuts into a bonfire, or a shoe over a roof, recalls Ezekiel's contempt for the king of Babylon who threw arrows into the air, thinking the way they landed would give him the information he needed. Some Samhain divination rites "had an erotic character."
Scholars tend to regard divination rites as quaint. In the Bible, God says divination rites are detestable and everyone who practices divination is detestable. That's the divine perspective, and it helps explain the refusal of many Christian people to attend Halloween parties, no matter how innocuous the parties may be.
Christian churches attempted to displace pagan notions and pagan customs associated with Halloween, but they were not successful. Halloween cannot be changed, but in the Christian community it can be replaced with church-sponsored programs. At some time in the year we Christians should recall the lives of departed believers—not just those listed in the Bible, but also men and women who have enriched the church by their godly lives. Why not do it on Halloween?
We should remember our contemporaries—believers whom we have known personally who have passed away. The Epistle to the Hebrews says, "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the outcome of their way of life, imitate their faith."
That text tells us why it's helpful to recall the lives of godly people we have known: that we may contemplate the outcome of their lives, and imitate their faith. There are other values in a meeting convened to remember those who have passed into heaven. Believers who have lost friends or family members could be encouraged to talk about them openly. What the Bible teaches about the state of the dead who die in the Lord could be reviewed, and the occasion could be a fine opportunity for proclaiming that Christ is Conqueror over death and hell and Satan.
With a little enlightened imagination every church should be able to come up with something better than just sitting out Halloween, deploring its pagan, ugly elements.