Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Samhain, aka the Irish Halloween

As Halloween celebrations—for kids and grownups alike—seem to be on the upswing, two related holidays, the Day of the Dead and Samhain, appear more and more on our radar screens. Maybe because who isn’t game for a good excuse to indulge in all the sweets and chocolate we can eat! Or maybe we need something to perk up our spirits when summer is over, and it’s still weeks until the big holiday season starts with Thanksgiving. Whatever the reason, when I look out on our little farm at the end of October, the veggie beds mostly empty, apple trees bare of the ruby fruit of early fall, I’m all for marking a special day between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

Since we live too far away from any neighbors to have Halloween trick-or-treaters, the idea of celebrating Samhain is kinda growing on me. As I understand it, Samhain is an ancient Celtic festival, very similar to the Hispanic tradition of the Day of the Dead. At this time, the dead walked the earth, and people could connect with their ancestors, considered sources of wisdom. Given all the spirits roaming around, the Celts would dress in disguises, so any evil ones couldn’t recognize them. Communal bonfires were also a big custom, thought to ward off evil spirits too. On the way home from the bonfire, people would put a candle in a hollowed-out turnip (the Scots used pumpkins, and brought the custom to the US), apparently to keep those witches, ghosts and goblins away as well.

However, Samhain is also notable as the beginning of the winter half of the year. Which fits here in the Foothills. We won’t be seeing any snow for a few more weeks (crossing my fingers), but the glorious fall color has faded. and most plants around our place have begun their winter sleep—save for a few winter greens, that with any luck, will hold their own until April. So now that the hard work of tending and harvesting is over, I’m happy to devote myself to creating more Irish stories!