Grab your hammers and get out your costumes! It’s time for everyone’s favorite random religious holiday: Reformation Day! Here are some answers to a few (not so) frequently asked questions to help you make the most of your October 31 celebration.
What is Reformation Day?
Four hundred ninety-four years ago in the German town of Wittenberg, Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses on the church door. It is an image frequently associated with the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Thus every October 31 is declared Reformation Day.
My kids feel out of place because of all the children that dress up for Halloween. Can they dress up for Reformation Day?
Absolutely. Common costumes worn center around prominent figures associated with the Reformation both before and after Luther’s act. Jan Hus, Jean Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, Melanchton, and Luther himself are all great standbys. But let’s be honest: those are all kind of vanilla choices. Reformation Day is about shaking things up.
For example, why goes as Luther when you could go as the Wittenberg door? There are also several ideas that go along with the spooky goblins and ghosts associated with All Hallow’s Eve. Kids can dress up as a soul that wasn’t sprung from purgatory even though a loved one purchased an indulgence. Or your child can walk around with gummiworms in a bucket of crumbled up Oreos; constantly pulling the crawlers out to eat. What are they going as? That’s right, it’s the Diet of Worms. Have fun. Be creative.
Is there anyway that we can make a Batman costume fit into the Reformation Day theme?
We’ve been working on that because we know that kids love dressing up as Batman. The best we got right now is that he’s trying to get criminals to reform. But that seems a bit inaccurate. He doesn’t really seem to be into rehabilitation; it’s not like he visits Arkham and teaches them to how to put together a resume. Most of his prison visits are to pummel the Killer Croc until he spills the location of the Joker’s lair. We’ll keep working.
What are some Reformation Day traditions in which my family can participate?
Back in the day, children would reenact 1517 by nailing messages to church doors. Later on as trick-or-treating became common, the messages moved to neighborhood doors. Nowadays neighbors don’t take kindly to people nailing messages on their doors and will often press vandalism charges. So simple Scotch tape will do the job nicely.
As far as content of message, Luther’s 95 were a passionate discourse against the Church’s shortcomings; some young college students follow suit today. However, children typically leave messages of gratitude and encouragement. Telling your neighbor that they play their music too loud or haven’t returned your screwdriver via posted message can be seen as petty. And yes, trick-or-treat candy counts as asking for indulgences.
Are there any Reformation Day songs? What about meals?
Of course. There are many Reformation carols, but I guess you could say “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is October 31’s “Jingle Bells”. I’ve also been told that Protestant Hipsters in Brooklyn celebrate with an ironic singing of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” The lyric Stop…hammer time! typically kicks off the evening’s festivities.
As far as meals are concerned, those living in more temperate climates should take advantage and grill out. The traditional meal consists of hamburger and bratwurst, a delicacy in Germany. Top it off with cheese, bacon, and whatever else you want and you got yourself an excellent Wittenburger.
Can we celebrate Reformation Day more than once a year?
This is a frequently asked question, especially from the kids. And it’s understandable. While the actual holiday is only celebrated on October 31, the spirit of Reformation Day should live on in your hearts year round. The phrase semper reformanda meaning “always reforming” was popular in the early Reformation churches. We should take that theme to heart and always seek new ways to reform our lives in our walk with God.
Revised from a blog entry originally published on October 31, 2007.