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Celebrating on October 31

Today is All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, a secular name by which it is more commonly known. People will dress up in costumes and celebrate at parties complete with jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, spiders, witches, etc. My young grandchildren can hardly wait to rake in the candy when they go out trick-or-treating tonight.

Yet October 31 historically has had a much more religious significance. Christians have long kept vigil this night for the observance of All Saints Day tomorrow.

Of even more significance to my family is that October 31 marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On All Hallows Eve in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Church to protest the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church. This shocking act marked the beginning of the Reformation and the Lutheran faith.

Luther’s teaching spread far, and the Nordic countries quickly left the Roman church to embrace Lutheranism. My mother’s family in Norway and Finland followed the state-mandated Lutheran tradition for hundreds of years.

The Lutheran church records in these countries still exist. They provide valuable genealogical information to me in their lists of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials. With these records, I can trace my family back many generations relatively easily.

So Halloween means more to me than just another secular party day. In addition to All Hallows Eve, it is the birthday of the Lutheran church. This year my Lutheran congregation celebrated, not with candy and costumes, but by performing Bach’s cantata #80 based on the great hymn of the Reformation, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. I celebrate Reformation Day today, not just Halloween.

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