What Is Reformation Day? October 31 Also Marks The Symbolic Beginning of The Protestant Church

Germany Celebrates 500th Anniversary Of The Reformation
Visitors wear traditional clothes in the day to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Luther's nailing of his 95 theses on the doors of the nearby Schlosskirche church on October 31, 2017 in Wittenberg, Germany. Carsten Koall/Getty

If you ask most people what holiday they associate with banging on doors and the last day of October, they will likely say Halloween. However, several groups around the world also recognize another celebration on this date, one that invokes more thoughts of monks than monsters.

For these people, October 31 is also Reformation Day, commemoration of the day when, over half a millennium ago, a German monk named Martin Luther is believed to have started the Protestant Reformation. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed his 95 Theses—an exhaustive list of personal grievances he held against the Catholic Church for what he saw as its immoral conduct—to the door of the city of Wittenberg's Castle Church.

Unlike Halloween, Reformation Day does not have celebratory traditions like dressing up in costumes or partaking in the indulgence of sweets (which Luther himself may have had his reasons for not liking). But the day holds meaning for many who cherish their religious traditions and cultural history.

Luther's posting of his theses and his subsequent rebellion against Church leadership is remembered as the pivotal act that ultimately sparked the creation of the numerous Protestant denominations, called so because they trace their theological lineage to this protestation of the Catholic Church. Among these are the Lutherans, the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and others. In 2010, around 37 percent of all Christians around the world identify as Protestants, according to the Pew Research Center.

Today, Reformation Day is recognized by communities around the world, albeit on a lesser scale than its spooky counterpart. It is an official holiday in eight German states, according to the website Public Holidays Global. The Lutheran Church recognizes the holiday as part of its official liturgical calendar, and some members of the Reformed (Calvinist) church are also known to commemorate the event.

The United Methodist Church, a major "mainline" Protestant denomination in the United States, also encourages members to celebrate the holiday.

"The themes of the Reformation remain the great themes and principles of our own faith today," the United Methodist Church's website reads. "The great schism that occurred in the church remains with us. Our fractured denominations have entered into dialogue and cooperative activities that have brought us closer together. Today we may observe Reformation Day with a sense of moving toward unity and community."

Lastly, besides sharing the same date, Reformation Day also has a connection to Halloween that many may not know about. According to faculty who contributed to a blog post from the University of Arizona, Halloween has its roots in the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, which was held to celebrate the new year and harvest. When the Celts were Christianized, this celebration became the November 1 holiday of All Martyrs' Day and eventually All Saints' Day, which eventually morphed into All-Hallows. The evening before All-Hallows became All-Hallows Eve, "the precursor of Halloween."

It turns out that Luther posted his 95 Theses on October 31 because he knew the church would be packed full of worshipers the following day.

"The reason he did that was because the next day was All Saints' Day," Steven Martinson, a professor of German studies and director of the World Literature Program at the University of Arizona, said. "He knew that well-educated people were going to come to the services."

Whether you celebrate one holiday, both or neither, just be glad most trick-or-treaters who come to your door won't be inclined to nail things to it.