Samhain, pronounced SOW-in, is the Pagan holiday beginning the evening of Oct. 31, extending to Nov. 1. This late fall festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the darker half of the year.
There are too many sects of Paganism to define, but most practice with an eclectic approach. This means that the person draws from different practices of paganism from around the world to make a personalized practice that fits the individual’s needs.
Some Neopagans, modern Paganists, celebrate Samhain as the Celtic New Year and a day to honor and communicate with passed loved ones.
The wheel of Pagan holidays follows a story of the God and Goddess throughout the year and the change of the seasons. The wheel represents a calendar of the holidays in order of date, though the dates sometimes change based on the last and first harvest.
Samhain is the end of the story where the God has now died and the Goddess mourns him turning the world cold before the Winter Solstice, Yule. Yule is when the God is reborn from the Goddess and the year begins to warm as the God grows up with each passing day causing the days to lengthen.
The story is more of a tale to send a message through simple plot and make it fun for the kids, similar to the Christian year following Christ as he is born on Christmas and rises on Easter. The order of the story and holidays is shown through the positioning on the wheel, which has a double meaning: it is a wheel because the story is a repetitious cycle like the seasons.
With that being said, one does not have to believe in the God and Goddess as a true deity, but more of a fun way to think of the year as a metaphorical telling of the seasons.
Before Neoaganism, the celebration of Samhain lasted a week with large bonfires and the sacrifice of remaining livestock to prepare for winter. The people drank, feasted, danced, conducted rituals, and honored passed loved ones through various rituals.
A majority of Pagans that celebrate the new year and day of the dead design their own personal way of celebrating.
Some ways of celebrating include alters, incense, feasts and dinners, outdoor fires, fun activities, personal reflection, and tea.
As defined on the UK website the White Goddess, “Samhain is a time for personal reflection, and for recognizing our faults and flaws and creating a method for rectifying them. Also, some people decorate altars with photographs of dead loved ones, pumpkin lanterns, oak leaves, apples, nuts, and sage.”
According to the White Goddess, incenses associated with this festival include nutmeg, mint and sage, and the colors black and orange widely used.
Some teas to drink this fall would be chai, mint, apple spice, yarrow, raspberry, sage, and more.
Another way of celebrating is setting a place at the table for the dead to join the evening feast and discussing with fellow guests memories of now passed on loved ones.
Starting a safe bonfire in your back yard, or just merely lighting the barbecue up, is a fun way to spend time with friends and family while keeping warm. The fire brings about a sense of clarity and honesty to set the mood for telling stories and remembering the deceased.
Before Christianity, some Celtic celebrations consisted of the lighting of two fires next to one another for people to dance between as a sort of purification for the new year to come. Some towns and villages would create a new system of laws to better fit the needs of the people during the week of Samhain.
The celebration is held for most pagans in the Northern Hemisphere from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 or 2, but the seasons are different in the Southern Hemisphere during this time. Because of the differences in harvest and weather, some people in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate Samhain around May 1.