IMG_1060The days grow short. The air grows cold. The harvest comes to an end. The leaves fade and the plants wither. Summer is dying. Winter lurks around the corner. Samhain has arrived. In Celtic tradition, October 31st marked the end of the year. On that day the old year would die. On that day the world of the living and the world of the dead would intertwine.

IMG_1045For the Celts, this was a time for celebration, preparation, and remembrance as well, for the dead would walk amongst the living once more. Loved ones, long gone, would rejoin their families. The Celts lit great bonfires to guide these spirits safely to their new home. When we light candles and illuminate carved pumpkins for Halloween, we carry on this ancient tradition unaware of its original purpose.

IMG_1038Of course spirits of the otherworld were not necessarily benign. Often mischievous and sometimes malicious, the ghosts would receive food and blessings from the households they visited. If not, the family could expect tricks. Some people would dress up as the otherworldly creatures and once mistaken for one of the spirits would then be left alone. Some would even take advantage of the night to obtain food and gifts for themselves.

IMG_1178However, Samhain was not necessarily a night of terror for the Celts, not for a people who so valued darkness and the dead. Samhain was a time for the people to celebrate the gift of life before they were worn down by the hardships of winter. They could revel in their harvest and enjoy the fruit of their labor. Games with apples and pumpkins were as popular then as they are now. The community would host parties and feasts even inviting the spirits. 

With the spread of Christianity, the old holidays were superseded, Samhain among them. The day was converted into All Hallow’s Eve to eventually become known as Halloween. However, the people were loath to give up beliefs so fundamental to their culture. To those who look, the old celebration is buried just beneath the surface. This is the day where we are reminded that life and death are not as far apart as they seem, that a belief in the supernatural lurks in the mind of every human. Like the Celts we also remember that it is a time to just appreciate life itself.