Samhain is Here!

Happy Samhain to the Whole World!

What? The whole world doesn’t celebrate Samhain? Their loss. Although I beg to dither over the point. I think every culture has some kind of harvest celebration, which is what Samhain is, at its most basic level.

If it’s harvest, then why the scary costumes, ghosts, and zombies? I’m no expert, but my understanding of it is this:

In the Celtic tradition, Samhain is New Year’s Eve. It’s a time when the veil between spirit and flesh is thinnest. The spirits take advantage of this to wander around the Earth again. I guess there’s an idea that the spirits are not always kind, which is why people would wear scary masks, hoping the spirits would not bother them.

I wonder why there are no stories of humans taking advantage of the thin veil to go roaming around the spirit world. Perhaps there’s a book idea in that…

The mask thing evolved into full-scale costumes, just as the harvest dinner and sharing evolved into trick-or-treat. It’s also a good time to remember your loved ones who are no longer with you.

So today, I will put on my cat/witch outfit and drink pumpkin martinis. Yes, plural. I might have two. I’ll light candles and play my vampire music and that great Y2K Doomsday CD. I have pretzels to give away to the kiddies. We’re putting out the giant spiders and jack o’lanterns.

Happy Samhain!



9 thoughts on “Samhain is Here!”

  1. We Jews call our harvest festival sukkot. We build temporary structures that are open to the sky, and camp out in them during the festival days. We decorate them with harvest fruits and ornaments. We smell the etrog, a fragrant citrus fruit, then save it to make marmalade or limoncello (etrogcello?) later. We bind together four specific plants into a lulav and shake them in the four directions and up and down in remembrance of the blessing of a good harvest. Since I live in America, I get to celebrate Thanksgiving, too, another harvest festival. I agree, the big celebrations are universal because the emotions are universal. Gratitude this time of year, fear of the dark a little later, then rejoicing in the spring, and so on.

  2. There are cultural differences, but every country has some sort of festival honouring their dead and the spirits around us too. You are right–a lot of the Hallloween traditions are about scaring away the bad spirits. But the Christian festivals that were placed on Nov 1 and 2 (mostly to try and discourage what the Christian church saw as pagan celebrations that had to be stamped out) also reflect the belief that a special time should be set aside for those that have passed.

    I don’t celebrate Halloween in my country (others do, and we have parties, but it’s not a big part of the culture here or in the Caribbean–trick or treating happens more in expat or upper class neighbourhoods). But November 1 for Anglicans and Catholics is All Saints Day, or All Hallows Eve (hence Halloween) and Nov 2 All Souls Day. The first celebrates all saints (all good Christians being regarded as saints in terms of this decree as well), and the second celebrates all the souls of loved ones that have passed on.

    In my country, we visit cemetaries during the end of October, cleaning graves and lighting candles. Some families keep vigil for part of the night for both days. When I was a child, many homes lit candles in their yard to celebrate the day, but this tradition is all but gone. I still light up every year, but only a few candles in specific places outside my home where relatives often hung out. I light a candle every year in my gallery for both my grandparents, and one for my great-grandmother (whom I never met) where her favourite mango tree used to be. I grew up hearing from my grams how she used to sit under it and smoke a pipe, and we used to light a candle for her every year, so I continue the tradition, to honour both remarkable women.

    1. I’ll say one thing for Catholics – they do know how to party! I love the idea of cleaning the graves and holding a vigil. Rituals like this take us out of ourselves and make us think of other people. That’s a good thing.

  3. Good post! And as a footnote, I just want to add that Samhain is one of two times during the cycle that the veil is at it’s thinnest. The other is Beltane (May 1), which is exactly six months from Samhain. 🙂

  4. Can’t help but wonder how many different customs and traditions have been woven, looped and reborn into various celebrations…hmmm… and yeah, that is a good book idea of what it would be like for a human to slip over to the other side.

      1. So true! That’s why I’ve made Viyella’s world such a mish-mash. I envisioned a future where the past was so long ago, and the group of people who survived it so small, we have adopted things from other cultures and made them our own. Cultural divisions fall because they have to rely on each other for survival. I must admit, it was inspired by my country’s tendancy to adopt every new immigrant’s most important cultural practices as their own.

        Hindus here will celebrate Divali in couple of weeks. I will light up my yard with deyas like many other non-Hindu citizens. Hindus will celebrate Christmas as well, putting up trees and having enormous family gatherings. Muslims just finished celebrating Eid al Fitr. I received my yearly sweets and curry from good Muslim friends, and will be at their house, singing Parang (our Spanish Christmas music which was inspiried by Spanish colonists who came here with their Spanish hynms, and by Venezulan immigrants) for the season approaching.

        Trinidad is far from perfect, but the fact that we welcome, endorse and make public holidays of every important cultural and religious festival, regardless of religion or ethnicity, is a measure of how we prefer to validate, share and enjoy our differences, rather than isolate people into their celebrations and hold a secular one here and there. I think it works very well for us. I know growing up with such a broad understanding of the meaning of so many cultural and religious rites and sharing in them and their reverence, immeasurably improved my life. And it was wonderful fun!

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