By Heather L Green
While we were discussing the theme of the Reformation at one of our newsletter planning meetings, I became intrigued by the connection between the Reformation, All Saint’s Day, and Halloween. Pastor Ray indicated that Martin Luther intentionally chose the date of October 31. I am sure that Pastor Ledogar explained the significance of the date in Confirmation class (many) years ago, butI will be the first to admit that I have forgotten this specific detail. Hence, I decided to tackle this topic if for nothing more than my own edification.
All Saint’s Day (also called All Hallows Day), as a Catholic holiday, was officially established on May 13, 609 as All Martyrs Day by Pope Boniface IV when he dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to all Christian martyrs. A little more than 100 years later, Pope Gregory III amended the holiday to include Christian saints and moved its observance from May to November 1. It is assumed he did this to coincide with the Roman holiday of Feralia and the Celtic festival of Samhaim. Feralia was a holiday observed in late October to commemorate those who had died during the previous year and Samhaim was celebrated on the eve of November 1, the Celtic New Year.
Halloween, as we know it today, can be traced back specifically to Samhaim. Part of Celtic belief was that the night before the new year, the ghosts of the dead came back to walk the earth. As part of the celebration, they had huge bonfires and would wear costumes to “confuse” the haunting and destructive spirits. By 43 AD, the Roman Empire had expanded to include most of the Celtic areas. Within a few hundred years, the Roman holidays of Feralia and Pomona, a festival to honor the goddess of fruit and trees whose symbol was an apple, had been combined with Samhaim into one celebration, which included costumes, fires, and parades. Since these parties took place on the eve of All Saints or All Hallows Day, the holiday was called All Hallows Eve, which became Halloween.
The Reformation began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed a notice to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. These were his “95 Theses” or a list of grievances he had against the teachings of the Catholic Church. Among them were the teaching that a priest or monk had to intercede between a believer and God (a lay person could not talk to God directly); the established hierarchy of the Catholic Church (one person, a Pope, had authority over the entire church); and the idea of earning your way into Heaven (believers would only get to Heaven through charitable acts or the purchase of indulgences).It is believed that the practice of selling indulgences, especially their promotion in funding the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, is what finally precipitated Luther’sactions.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Church doors were used as a type of “bulletin board” where public notices were often posted for people to read. Martin Luther chose October 31, All Hallows Eve, as the day to post his theses because of the vast number of people who would be required to attend church on November 1, All Saint’s or All Hallows Day. As a side note, the printing press had been invented around 1470, and Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” were so quickly translated from Latin to German, reprinted, and widely distributed throughout Europe, that within three years he had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church and named both a heretic and fugitive.