Halloween vs. Reformation Day: More in common than we thought?

This spooky spider web could almost pass for Santa…[1]

October is a great time to laugh at the crisis of shopping centres, as they struggle to figure out whether they should be decked out for Halloween, or already setting up the Christmas decorations. The amusing thought occurred to me this afternoon about the usefulness of white, wispy “pillow fluff” decorations during this awkward change-over period: you can put toy spiders on it to produce a suitably “spooky” effect, before removing them to make it look more like snow as we head into November.

I suspect the visual blend of Halloween and Christmas earns the ire of some of my Christian brothers and sisters. For many of us, “never the twain should meet.” But there’s a more annoying commemorative overlap with Halloween that tends to see an important day largely overshadowed every year: even amongst those who have great cause to celebrate it.

October 31st is not only a day for celebrations of spookiness. It’s when many Protestant Christians mark the anniversary of the event that ignited the Reformation. And it’s actually no coincidence that “Reformation Day” & “Halloween” fall on the same date.

Halloween gets its name from “All hallows eve” – that is the night (eve) before All Hallows – or All Saints Day in the Catholic tradition. The folklore goes something like, all the evil spirits come out and wreak havoc just before the holy day when the Church is/was celebrating everyone she’s recognised as a saint throughout history. It’s a juxtaposition. Martin Luther likely nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Church (the event that is seen by many as the spark that ignited the Reformation) on All Hallow’s Eve in 1517 precisely because he wanted them to be seen and read when churchgoers gathered to celebrate All Saint’s Day the following morning.

While for many Christians, a day celebrating the beginning of a world-changing theological and spiritual renewal movement and a day celebrating fear and ghastly otherworldliness couldn’t be further from each other in significance – they bear a strange commonality.

In a sense, Reformation Day is summed up in “After Darkness, Light”, while Halloween might be thought of as “Before light, darkness.”

Reformation Day reminds us that God graciously brought the light of His Word, Gospel and glory to millions of people, after a long spell of spiritual darkness lay over the world due to the Church being compromised. Countless people have since been “enlightened” by having the Bible in their own language, in their own home. A multitude have been “illuminated” by hearing the Gospel presented clearly: that they can have salvation in Christ alone, solely on the basis of God’s grace, received exclusively through faith. And God’s fame shines brighter today in many parts of the world as He accomplishes salvation for His own glory – that none may boast.

And the myth of Halloween – the idea that the powers of darkness are at their strongest immediately before giving way to a great celebration of holiness – may actually be more instructive for us than we’d typically think. Sometimes the powers of darkness and the human agents that happily do their bidding seem all-too-powerful from the perspective of Christians who are anxious about the apparent triumph of evil in the world, while we wait and wait for God to do something about it.

But despite how things may seem during our darkest patches, the Bible assures us that:

1) Christ has triumphed over every spiritual power of darkness and has conquered death itself (Col 2:15; Heb 2:14-15; 1 Pet 3:22)

2) This present age of sin, fallenness and death is being swallowed up by the new age of resurrection life in Christ (Rom 8; 1 Cor 15:54-55; 2 Cor 5:4; 2 Tim 1:10;)

3) Satan, the most powerful spiritual force of darkness has been defeated by Christ, but is in his “death throes” and thus still appears threatening and able to do damage as he thrashes about in the time he has left (Rev 12:12)

4) However dark the world seems to get and however much evil seems to prevail, Christ’s sudden return will utterly obliterate all wickedness and rebellious spirits (and people) forever. (2 Thess 1:5-10; 2 Pet 3:7; Jude 14-15; Rev 19-20)

Since I always tend to opt for the superior over the inferior, I would naturally commend the 499th anniversary of the Reformation as much more worthy of your celebration than Halloween. And yet it would seem that both observances of the 31st of October could serve to remind us that in God’s sovereign goodness, Light has (and will!) come after Darkness (post tenebras lux), even if much of our sojourn on earth is faced with darkness coming before the dawn.


[1] Mats_60 “Untitled” flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
[2] Uncredited: derived from https://lutheranarts.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/a-reformation-pumpkin-gallery/

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