Bushels of apples, patches of pumpkins and burnished leaves crunching underfoot herald the approach of the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”), better known by most folks as Halloween.
The Gaelic word “samhain” means literally “summer’s end,” and its celebration on October 31 is significant because that date lies exactly between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. While this time period brings a deep tradition of celebrating the end of the harvest and preparing for the cold, lean months to come, it is also thought of as a special moment when the veil between the worlds of the living and dead is said to be at its thinnest, so we have the ability to connect with this other realm.
Since ancient times, Samhain has been celebrated as a festival for the dead, spanning three days that begin on October 31. Sunset on this day is the traditional beginning of the Celtic New Year. This holiday is also celebrated by other traditions as All Hallows Eve, Hallowtide, Hallowmass, The Day of the Dead, All Soul’s Night, and All Saint’s Day.
The common thread through all cultures is setting aside time to honor those that have gone before – be they ancestors or animal guides, saints or other spirit helpers – because our relationships with spirits of this realm must continue to be nurtured. There are many traditions, old and new, for honoring our varied ancestral spirits.
Today’s Halloween tradition of carving pumpkins and placing them outside with a lit candle is based on a much older tradition of placing lights in hollowed-out turnips to guide the spirits of the dead to the next realm. If pumpkin-carving is one of your favorite traditions of this season, consider thinking of some of your ancestors as you light the candle this year, or even say their names aloud, to honor them.