I come from a Gaelic heritage based in and around Ireland, Scotland and Wales, yet I didn’t learn much about it growing up. I was raised in a cozy mid-west suburb where I was sent to Catholic school and church. In my school, there was no Halloween. Instead, we observed All Saints Day where we dressed up as our patron saint.
When I got home from school, I changed into my costume and ran through the neighborhood trick or treating. I loved getting dressed up. I loved the candy. I’m glad I was allowed to have fun on Halloween.
But I was never taught the true origin, meaning or rituals of Samhain which is the origin of Halloween.
Spirits and Saints.
Samhain, pronounced Sow’ in, is an ancient Celtic festival on November 1st. Because the Celtic calendar calculates the days using the Lunar calendar, the start of Samhain or All Hallows is on October 31 which is the end of the Celtic year.
For the Celtic culture, this is a celebration of endings and beginnings. It’s a time to feast and celebrate the harvest. It’s also the Celtic festival of the dead. A day to remember lives well lived and honor spirits with bonfires, food and drink.
The festival was changed to unite tribal culture with monotheistic religion. When Christian religion took over the Druid culture, Samhain was changed to All Hallow’s Eve or All Saints Night.
Fire, food and faith.
Certainly this year, of all years, makes the whole Western idea of candy and costumes seem wrong. Co-opting a culture by using stereotyped costumes can be seen as racist, sexist or worse. It could perpetuate misinformation and misunderstanding at a time when we need just the opposite.
Yet coming together to talk, eat, laugh and celebrate may be what we need most right now. It’s getting colder outside and we need warmth inside our homes and our souls. Giving a sweet can be just a symbol of generosity by sharing food with people we know and those we don’t. It builds faith in the families surrounding us in our neighborhoods.
If there was ever a year where we needed to come together, it’s this year. I need to find a way to end this difficult year with heart and hope and faith.
Maybe, for me, that means making ghost cookies, carving a silly pumpkin, lighting my home with cinnamon scented candles and making a big batch of stew from the last of the season’s tomatoes. And most of all remembering the good souls who walked and lived and laughed and loved among us.