Halloween or Reformation Day?

by Rev. Peter McIntyre - Clogher Valley Free Presbyterian Church
...on 31st October 1517 Martin Luther ignited a fireworks display of his very own...
Halloween or Reformation Day

What's the Connection?

The day that Martin Luther chose to nail his ninety-five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg is commonly recognised as Halloween. While this is the season where many are fascinated with the ghoulish and obscene, it also marks half term in the school calendar and is punctuated by some of the biggest fireworks displays of the year. Was it significant that Luther chose what we call Halloween as the launching pad for the Protestant Reformation? Not only is there a connection between Reformation and Halloween, but it is no exaggeration to claim that on 31st October 1517 Martin Luther ignited a fireworks display of his very own in Wittenberg. His fireworks were words and ideas based on the sacred principles of Scripture. The display was seen as far away as Rome, and it continues to brighten the spiritual skies of Europe today, 500 years later.

Luther chose 31st October to publish his document, exposing the practice of Indulgences, because this was the eve of All Saints Day. In the Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, the official name of All Saints Day in All Hallows Day. Apart from Sundays, there are six Holy days of Obligation in the Catholic Calendar, with All Hallows Day being one. It is the Roman Church which gives 31st October its common name- Halloween literally means the 'Eve of All Hallows Day'.

Indeed, Catholicism regards the 31st October, 1st November, and 2nd November as important dates, with All Saints Day at the heart of the festival. Halloween represents the restlessness of the souls of the departed who have yet to be released from Purgatory. All Saints Day is the honouring of the souls that have been released from Purgatory and have received The Beatific Vision; they have gone to Heaven. All Souls Day, 2nd November, is the season for honouring all the souls of departed. With Frederick the Wise choosing All Saints Day as the time for displaying his vast collection of relics in exchange for purchasing indulgences, Wittenberg was thronging with pilgrims on 31st October. Many were entertaining hopes that this year one of their relatives might be released from Purgatory's fearful purges on All Saints Day. Therefore, Luther chose this moment to make his statement by nailing his ninety-five Propositions to the Church door.

As Luther was the monk who would challenge the corruptions and traditions of the Church, there is a powerful symbolism in the date when the Reformation began. The lingering fascination with Halloween, with ghosts, spectres and all manner of evil, and the choice of All Saints Day as 1st November, stems from the desire of the Church to integrate Paganism with Christianity through compromise. Halloween is the oldest of all Pagan festivals. The Celts in Ireland held a harvest festival each year on 31st October, calling it Samhain. Believing the division between the spirit world and the material world was very thin at this midway point between the summer and winter solstices, our ancient ancestors would leave out food to placate the spirits who crossed over, in case they did terrible things to them - leave the treat or risk the trick. The fascination with Halloween is a remnant from our pagan past. This is based on anti-Christian foundations because the dead cannot visit us. The Scripture teaches that once we die our souls either go to heaven or hell; there is no return to earth.

All Saints Day, as a Christian festival, also has no Biblical foundation. This practice was started by Pope Bonifice IV in 609 AD. He chose 13th May because this was the date for the Feast of Lemures, which was the Latin version of Samhain in Ireland. Instantly, we understand what the Church was doing as she descended into Apostasy. Failing to rid the people of their Pagan superstitions she converted Pagan practices, gave them Christian labels, and in so doing instituted holy days which had no substance in Scripture. It was Gregory III, 250 years after Bonifice IV, who finally moved All Hallows Day, to 1st November to correspond with the Irish harvest festival.

Therefore, in choosing 31st October, which in God's providence would become Reformation Day, Martin Luther was not only selecting a time when Wittenberg was crowded, when there was considerable local interest in indulgences, but he selected a moment which was indicative of the compromises Rome had made with occult pagan superstitions. The darkness of Halloween was liberated with the brilliant flashing lights of the Gospel of grace which shone as the beacon against the backdrop of medieval superstitions:

"The just shall live by faith."

Tragically, society in the Western World society is becoming increasingly fascinated with Halloween and its focus on the evil and the sinister. Rome, with her compromises, completely failed to remove paganism from the consciousness of the people. Only Martin Luther's response is satisfying. The Reformation way is the only approach. Preach Christ, stay close to the Scripture, expose evil, and remain steadfast without compromise.

Let us turn Halloween into Reformation Day and celebrate with humble and grateful hearts the power of the Gospel in the World.
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