October brings with it the promise of cooler temperatures and an array of beautiful colored leaves. Each year I look forward to the decorations Mother Nature provides, but it also seems that we humans are adding our own decorations to the season as well.
Earlier and earlier, I see ghosts, spider webs, skeletons, and witches adorning the yards around the city. Next to Christmas, Halloween is the most decorated holiday, and it seems to begin way before October even gets here.
I like Halloween, but for a completely different reason. Halloween is rooted in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced SOW-en). This was a harvest festival and it was at this time that root vegetables and squash were harvested. It was also a “Thin Time."
Samhain was both the end of the year and the beginning of the year, and so the ancients believed that the veil between this world and the next was the thinnest. They believed that the spirits of their ancestors could walk the earth on this night – especially those who had died the previous year - and so they remembered the ancestors at this time
During this time, they would place lit candles in their windows, and carve lanterns out of turnips and place them outside of their homes lit with candles. These would light the way of the Spirits so they would pass by their homes.
They would also set food out for the spirits so they wouldn’t cause any mischief at their home. Is this beginning sound like any holiday that we celebrate today? Like Halloween perhaps? Our celebration of Halloween today is celebrated more closely to the ancient ways than of our other holidays.
To further the connection, Samhain was always celebrated on the evening of October 31st, so the placement of Halloween was a given. When the Church began celebrating the feast of All Saints on November 1st, Samhain became known as All Hallows Eve - our current name, Halloween, derives from that. When the Church later added the feast of All Souls on November 2nd (think Day of the Dead), the three days became known as All Hallowstide, and was a time to remember the ancestors.
I love genealogy and learning about my heritage and ancestors, so this is a natural time for me to visit cemeteries. I learn so much from them. Rather than being the home of ghosts and goblins, they are a source of so much history and tradition, and a wealth of information.
This Halloween as you prepare for the trick-or-treaters, please try to spend some time remembering and honoring the ancestors.
Happy All Hallowstide!!!