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Autumn Holidays - History and Traditions

Fall in Full Swing


Fall is finally, fully here. Leaves are changing color, the air is getting cooler, and the holiday that is dedicated to tricks and treats is right around the corner. There are a multitude of cultural celebrations that happen during the month of October. Three of them to note are Samhain, Halloween, and the Day of the Dead. All three celebrations are from different areas of culture but are often celebrated together.


I’m going to go into some detail about their origins and how to celebrate them today!


Samhain

Samhain, pronounced SOW-win or SOWN, is an ancient Celtic spiritual tradition, celebrated from October 31st to November 1st and was meant to welcome the darker part of the year. People who celebrated Samhain believed that the veil was thinnest this time of year, and the barrier between the physical and spiritual world broke down during this holiday and there was a greater chance of interactions between humans and those behind the veil.


During ancient times, the Celtics marked Samhain as the most important of the four fire festivals they did each year. It was common for hearth fires in family homes to be left to burn out while the harvest was gathered. After the harvest was done, people who were celebrating joined Druid priests and light fires using a community wheel. The wheel was considered a representation of the sun. Samhain was considered a mandatory celebration, and community members were required to show themselves to kings and chieftains. Failure to do so was believed to result in punishment by the gods, which could mean illness or death.


Halloween

Halloween’s traditions originated around the celebrations of Samhain.


Originally, Halloween was celebrated as All Hallows’ Day or All Saints' Day, and was a day for honoring saints and praying for souls who had departed us but had not yet reached heaven.


The early Christian church celebrated All Hallows Day on May 13th, but changed the day to November 1st, though there are no concrete reasons as to why. Celebrations included baking and sharing food such as soul cakes. Soul cakes were sweet and baked with traditional grains that were available to the community at the time. Beggars and children often went door to door to collect those soul cakes in exchange for prayers and songs for the dead. This is where the modern concept of trick or treating comes from.


The Day of the Dead


The Day of the Dead, which is the English translation of Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated in Mexican culture and is when families welcome back the souls of the deceased families for a celebration that includes food and drink. The Day of the Dead takes place over two days. November 1st at 12 am is the Dia de los Angelitos, the Day of the Little Angels and is when the spirits of all deceased children are believed to be reunited with their families for 24 hours. On November 2nd at 12 am, Dia de los Fieles Difuntos, the Day of the Adults, is spent much the same way, but for adult members of the families who have passed.


The Day of the Dead is celebrated November 2nd at 12 noon. This day is the final day and public celebration of all spirits of the dead. Public celebrations include people painting their faces with calavera, decorating grave sites with marigolds, gifts, and sugar skulls with their departed family members names on them. It is also customary to clean the gravestone and site.


There is an ofrenda, or offering, to those family members at an altar. The altars are decorated with bright yellow marigold flowers, photos of the departed, and their favored food and drink. The offerings are believed to encourage visits from those ancestors from the land of the dead and encourage them to join in the celebrations.


Traditions and Celebrations


Typically, Samhain, Halloween, and the Day of the Dead can be celebrated by preparing a large dinner to celebrate the harvest. It’s celebration for those who have passed on and those who are still with us.


During this time, it’s difficult to have those gatherings, but they can still be done social distanced if you are able or electronically.

Setting up altars with late fall symbols such as dark breads, nuts, berries, dried acorns or leaves, and mulled cider or wine is also a good way to celebrate Samhain and the Day of the Dead if you are in the practice of creating altars in your sacred space. Be sure to utilize bright fall colors, too!


You can also use a form of divination such as cartomancy, runes, or other tools of divination to connect with those ancestral helping spirits if that is specifically part of your spiritual practice.


Most importantly, whether you’re infusing a Samhain and Halloween celebration, celebrating Samhain, Halloween, the Day of the Dead, or simply not celebrating anything at all, it can be important to remember your family history and acknowledge your ancestors, reflect upon the past year and how much you and your family have changed and grown.

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