Christian-friendly Halloween Alternative: Reformation Day

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door, sparking the Reformation movement among Christians. Because this movement was sparked on Halloween, celebrating Reformation Day is a great Halloween alternative for Christians.

Whether you choose to celebrate Halloween or not (or why) is a very personal decision, one you need to make after some deep contemplation with God and learning the origins of Halloween. I'm not here to tell you not to participate in any way. All I'm providing is an idea for a quality Halloween alternative, which could also be used as an additional learning opportunity for you to have fun with as a family.

My family does not celebrate Halloween. As my kids entered mid-elementary ages, it became more and more difficult to overlook what the rest of our neighborhood was doing, sparking many questions, research, and discussions regarding Halloween. My husband and I decided when our son was two years old that we would not participate in it after he endured nightmares and panic attacks seeing the decorations at the store and down some of the roads of our neighborhood. So Halloween (and October in general) has become a time of year when we typically hide out, spend more time at local farms, and focus on gratitude for our God-given garden harvests.

Thankfully, there is more history to the date of October 31st than just Halloween.

What Is the Reformation?

The Protestant Reformation was a European religious movement in the 1500s that fractured Catholicism to create Protestantism.

The Protestant Reformation began on October 31st, 1517, in Wittenberg, Germany. That day, Martin Luther, a teacher and a monk, posted a document called Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, or 95 Theses, directly contradicting the Catholic Church's teachings. The controversial document listed 95 Christianity-focused ideas and invited people to engage in dialogue and debate with him.

His affinity for challenging the Catholic Church came during his time in the monastery, where he translated the Bible into German. Through reading the Word, Luther rediscovered salvation in Christ alone, through faith alone, and by grace alone. His journey inspired more people to translate and read the Gospel truth for the first time in their own language.

Martin Luther's statements directly challenged the validity of the Catholic Church's role as an intermediary between people and God. He specifically called out the indulgence system, which allowed people to purchase a certificate of pardon for the punishment of their sins. Instead of accepting the Church's unethical behavior, he argued against the practice of buying or earning forgiveness (an indulgence system). Instead, he believed that salvation is a gift God gives those who have faith.

Luther's objections to the indulgence system paved the way for additional challenges to European Catholic doctrine. For example, John Calvin in France and Huldrych Zwingli in Switzerland proposed new ideas about the practice of Holy Communion. Another example is when Anabaptists rejected the idea that infants should be baptized in favor of the notion that baptism was reserved for adult Christians.

Most challenges to the Catholic Church indicated that individual believers should be less dependent on the Catholic Church, including its Pope and priests, for spiritual guidance and salvation.

Instead, Protestants believed you should take personal responsibility for your faith and refer directly to the Bible for spiritual wisdom.

Continuing the Reformation

Protestant reform in England gained momentum with Henry VIII in 1534 after the Pope refused to grant him a marriage annulment. Subsequently, King Henry rejected the Pope's authority, instead assuming authority over the Church of England, which became a hybrid of Catholic doctrine and Protestant ideals. Followed by more than a decade of monarch-led ping-ponging between embracing Catholicism, Protestantism, and a hybrid of the two.

Through that time, diversity of religious thought became a core part of the United States Bill of Rights, which explicitly forbids the “establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

After over 400 years later, the Protestant Reformation still holds value in American culture, specifically preserving personal empowerment and independence in religious choices.

Martin Luther Sparked the Reformation With His 95 Statements

Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation by posting his 95 Statements (also known as 95 Theses) to the church door on October 31st, 1517. Through this act, he publically displayed his questioning of the Catholic Church, especially after they began to overlook the unethical behaviors of sinners who paid the priests.

There is no doubt that the concept of paying monetary fees for redemption is unethical and questions the motives and intentions of the Church.

If you haven't read his 95 Theses, I have them listed below (or you can skip ahead to read some ideas on how to celebrate or learn more as a family).

Martin Luther's 95 Theses

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
  3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
  4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
  6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
  7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest.
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
  10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.
  11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt 13:25).
  12. In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
  13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.
  14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.
  15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
  17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
  18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
  19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.
  20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words “plenary remission of all penalties,” does not actually mean “all penalties,” but only those imposed by himself.
  21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
  22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life.
  23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
  24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.
  25. That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.
  26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
  27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
  28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
  29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.
  30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.
  31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.
  32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
  33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.
  34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.
  35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
  36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
  37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
  38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.
  39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
  40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them — at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
  41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
  42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
  44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God's wrath.
  46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
  47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
  48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
  49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
  50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
  52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
  53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
  54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.
  55. It is certainly the pope's sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
  60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
  61. For it is clear that the pope's power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.
  62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
  66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.
  67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.
  68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
  70. But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned.
  71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.
  72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.
  73. Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.
  74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.
  75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.
  76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.
  77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.
  78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written. (1 Co 12:28)
  79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
  80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.
  81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
  82. Such as: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?” The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.
  83. Again, “Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”
  84. Again, “What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, beca use of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love's sake?”
  85. Again, “Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?”
  86. Again, “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”
  87. Again, “What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?”
  88. Again, “What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?”
  89. “Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?”
  90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.
  91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)
  93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
  94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

Reformation Day Ideas as a Halloween Alternative for Christians

Here are a few ways to make Reformation Day more engaging and not just treat it as a unit study for your history enrichment.

Songs for Reformation

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, written by Martin Luther. Use this hymn for copywork or sing it together as a family. Allow your kids to take their time, copying one verse at a time. Discuss what each verse means to your family.

Instead of singing, act out Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Church door.

If you need a script, try the one in  A Night of Reformation.

Merge the Reformation With Geography

Trace the route of William Tyndale as he was on the run and translating the Bible into English simultaneously. Discuss how you would feel if you were in Tyndale's position.

Read Reformation Books

Many stories document vital people during the Reformation, their accomplishments, and how they were treated.

The following books are historical fiction and reference books better suited for teens, not elementary students. You may want to skip these if you have young kids, especially if your child is sensitive.

Become Inspired by Reformation Artists

Another great way to celebrate the Reformation is to study or look up a few artists from that era and recreate some of the art.

Write About the Reformation

Spend a week learning how to write in calligraphy, and use your new skill to write out Bible verses. If you need help getting started, Simply Calligraphy: A Beginner's Guide to Elegant Lettering is a great resource.

Listen to Reformation Stories

Listen to The Mystery of History, Volume III. As much as I'm not a huge fan of audiobooks, I will admit it is nice to take a break from reading aloud. Listen to the story of the Reformation as Linda Hobar reads for you to hear the Christian perspective of this time in history.

Watch a Movie About the Reformation

Watch a movie about one of the reformers. Here are a few.

Martin Luther. This older version of Martin Luther's story does a great job of sharing this rich history without portraying Martin Luther or the Catholic Church as saints or villains. It also warns about corruption risks for all churches if they become too self-centered or self-reliant.

God's Outlaw: The Story of William Tyndale is best watched by teenagers (unsuitable for young or sensitive kids). It tells the tale of William Tyndale as he risked everything to translate the Bible and bring it to Englishmen in the countryside, where the Bible and prayers in English were outlawed. His story is a heroic and foundational piece of the English Reformation.

John Hus is a reformer ahead of his time (by about 100 years) that will inspire you as you see him stand for Christ, despite his circumstances. Jon Hus, a Bohemian priest and scholar who lived 100 years before Martin Luther, challenged the Catholic Church by teaching the Gospel in the language of his constituents (instead of Latin), salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ, and the Word of God is the authority.

Use Martin Luthor's Experience as Inspiration

Challenge your kids to create their own 95 Theses. This is great for kids 10+, or those with a solid understanding and memory of scripture.

Ask your kids to provide the following:

  • Opening paragraph,
  • List 5-10 concepts they want to protest the decisions of your home or Church, with specific reasons and scripture evidence as to why those decisions should be changed.
  • Closing paragraph with a call to action asking for clarification or changes

Encourage them to research and cite verses to justify their gripes, just as Martin Luther did.

Complaining just to complain doesn't solve anything. But writing a convincing argument with substance to justify it and producing a solution is much more effective.

Whether their arguments cause a change in your home, Church, or community is up to you as a family. However, this exercise will serve them as they grow into adults and have more capacity to enact change in a manner that glorifies God.

Color The Luther Rose Seal 

Martin Luthor created his own seal and wrote about it in the following letter. (Example and coloring page link below)

“Grace and peace from the Lord. As you desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me, has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my theology. The first should be a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. ‘For one who believes from the heart will be justified’ (Romans 10:10). Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. ‘The just shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:17) but by faith in the Crucified. Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12). Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal. This is my compendium theoligae [summary of theology]. I have wanted to show it to you in good friendship, hoping for your appreciation. May Christ, our beloved Lord, be with your spirit until the life hereafter. Amen.”

July 8, 1530, Martin Luther wrote a letter to Lazarus Spengler explaining the Luther Rose Seal.
luther rose seal

Download the coloring page, free (no email required)

halloween alternative

Nicole is a wife, homeschooling mom, child of God, Navy veteran, information research analyst, and entrepreneur currently serving as a writer, healthy lifestyle coach, and flexible business strategist. Since earning a BA in Business from Virginia Wesleyan University, focusing on business strategy, she has also taken many courses and seminars in Psychology, Aromatherapy, Herbalism, Chemistry, Biology, and Theology. She loves gardening, needlepoint, hiking, animals, and teaching natural wellness and healthy lifestyle topics.

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