October 31st is Not Halloween – it’s Reformation Day

Martin Luther nailing the 95 Thesis to the door of the Catholic church
Martin Luther nailing the 95 Thesis to the door of the Catholic church

For much of America’s history the celebration of Halloween was nearly unheard of, with Oct. 31st instead being remembered by many as Reformation Day, honoring Oct. 31st, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis against errant teaching in the Catholic church.

So why is Oct. 31st now known as Halloween, while Reformation Day is all but forgotten in the minds of most Americans?

The answer has to do with who first immigrated to America.

America was settled largely by protestant Christians who strongly resisted any traditions belonging to the Catholic church from which they had separated – Halloween being one of them.

Halloween had gained its recognition through the Catholic church in the eighth century when Pope Gregory III declared Nov. 1 “All Hallow’s Day”, with the evening before becoming “All Hallow’s Eve”, or “Hallowe’en”. (1) The day officially recognized martyred saints, but many claim the Pope chose this day in order to coincide with the Celtic tradition of “Samhaim” in order to try and “Christianize” a pagan holiday. (2)

Halloween was celebrated without controversy until Martin Luther led the charge against many of the teachings in the Catholic church in the 1500’s, with his followers rejecting any traditions associated with the Catholicism – including Halloween. As many of these protestant Christians found their way to America, their aversion to Halloween came with them – with New England officially banning Halloween. (3)

However, it wasn’t until the Irish Potato Famine that about a million Irish Catholics immigrated to America, bringing their Halloween tradition with them around 1850. The celebration of Halloween was still largely not accepted for many years in America, and it wasn’t until 1920 that the first official Halloween celebration is believed to have been held in Anoka, Minnesota. (4)

Today, with a 24% Roman Catholic population and an increasing trend away from the historic protestant faith, Reformation Day has all but been forgotten in America, and Halloween has gladly taken its place. (5)

Perhaps it’s time that Christians reclaimed Oct. 31st as a day of celebration – not of demons, jack-o-lanterns, or witches – but of the spread of the Bible, the rejection of unbiblical tradition, the reformation of the Church, and the restored teaching of salvation by faith in Christ alone!

It can begin by simply telling your family the story of Reformation Day each year, encouraging your church to raise awareness about the day, or even just posting on Facebook about it or sending out a text message.

The works of God in history will only continue to be forgotten, so long as we remain silent.

“He commanded our fathers to teach to their children… that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God.” – Psalm 78:5-7

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End notes:

1. http://www.history.com/topics/halloween

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/halloween_1.shtml

3.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2007/oct25.html

4.  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/101029-halloween-costumes-ideas-history-science-nation/

5. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html