503 years ago today, Martin Luther published his 95 theses that led to the Reformation. Also today—and for weeks leading up to today—people decorate their houses with spooky things and kids go trick-or-treating for candy around the neighborhood. Our family finds the former to be more worthy of celebration than the latter, so we started our own tradition several years ago to infuse meaning into the day. Here is how we celebrate Reformation Day.
Let me start by saying that we are actually not opposed to trick-or-treating, which puts us squarely in the middle of both Halloween critics and Halloween embracers. Maybe we are inconsistent. But I see no issues celebrating what is worthy of celebration, and letting my kids dress up in costumes (which they frequently do for fun anyway), roam the neighborhood, collect candy (while imposing a generous parent tax to, uh, teach them about government), and meet our neighbors. However, this is not what we have done in the past few years.
It all started with the desire to be more mindful of our Christian history the year before the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, in 2016. I wanted to learn more and teach my family in the process, so I read several history books on the topic and together we went through Michael Reeve’s The Unquenchable Flame in the weeks leading up to October 31. On Reformation Day, being from Germany, we cooked German food and talked about the events of the day 499 years prior and their importance and influence today.
Of all the benefits coming out of the Reformation, we wanted our kids to learn two things: First, the five Solas: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria. Books could be written on each of these (and have, see The 5 Solas, for example), but the basics are easy to explain and provide a springboard to jump into deeper waters as desired. Our explanations focused on how we hold to them today, and why it matters. The second is the messiness of history. We tend to romanticize the Reformation today, but let’s not forget that, as baptists, many Reformers would undoubtedly have us imprisoned or killed. Yet, through all that, we recognize God’s good plan. In the end, it is God’s role in that particular time period that we praise him for and celebrate.
No amount of history will pacify a child who sees other children roam the streets to collect masses of free candy. So we bought our own and played games together. In the years following our initial event, friends joined us and the games became more elaborate. A piñata seemed fitting for New Mexico, no matter the exact occasion, a spider web maze made of string in the hallway caused much laughter, and eating donuts without using hands off a string hung across the kitchen became a perpetual favorite. All these made for entertaining evenings with friends and history.
In the last year or so, our kids expressed interest to trick-or-treat after our party, and as I mentioned in the beginning, we are okay with that. Unfortunately, there seems to be a pandemic or something, causing everything fun to be canceled, so who knows what will happen this year. Good thing we’re prepared, not just with a piñata full of our own candy, but a bit of history to boot.