*Photo Credit - Saso Tusar
I’ve always been fascinated with the origins of our modern holidays. I went through a period of my life when our modern traditions felt hollow, and I had to do some digging to get to the essence of these holidays.
I learned that Halloween was the most important event of the year to the Celts of ancient Europe. Halloween was called Samhain (pronounced sow-in) and to the Celtic people, meant the end of the old year and the start of the new. The last of the year’s harvest was taken from the fields which would sit barren until spring. The beginning of winter was upon the land, and Samhain sat on that precipitous time that marked the end of one year and the start of the next. To them, this day meant that the veils between the world of the living and the world of spirit was thin, and spirits could walk the land.
Beloved ancestors were invited to visit the family, but restless, hungry ghosts needed to be tricked so that they didn’t cause fright or harm. The easiest way to trick the malevolent spirits was to disguise oneself by wearing masks and costumes.
Divination and fortune-telling was a common theme on Samhain. Questions about the upcoming harvest, weather, and possible marriages and births were put to the visiting spirits, so people could prepare for the future.
Fires and candles protected the living, and guided the ancestors to the hearths and homes of their families. Before coming to the New World and discovering pumpkins, people placed candles in carved turnips to help light the way for the beloved dead to visit.
Fast forward to today, and you can see how the essence of these beliefs are alive and well in America.
When my kids were young, I decided to adopt some of these older traditions and include them in our Halloween celebrations. We picked out costumes and went trick-or-treating, but we also put out photos of family members who we loved but are gone now, in order to remember them and what they meant to us. I wanted my children to know where they came from, what their names were, and what they looked like. These stories are important, and it’s good to not forget.
Another element of our Halloween celebration was food! Part of remembering our ancestors is remembering the foods they made, or things they loved to eat. Of course, with kids, these foods have to be tasty too, so I included some of the most fun and delicious dishes that my own grandmothers made when I was a kid. My kids loved the Polish cottage cheese dumplings and Italian pastas and polentas (I also made sure to include salads!) We had hot spiced cider and Chocomaya Chai to go along with our holiday meal. After dinner, we did our own divination by pulling cards and talking about things that we wanted to do and experience for the upcoming year. Sometimes we travel to New England to spend Halloween with family, which means lots more food and spooky fun!
How does your family celebrate Halloween? We’d love to hear your stories!