Happy Halloween! Today, many people in the world celebrate by dressing up in costume, gathering with friends and collecting candy. After developing a stomach ache and maybe a cavity from all the sweets, the extent of the holiday typically ends there for most of us.
Many of us have forgotten that the tradition originates from a rich Celtic fire festival called Samhain (Sah-win). Samhain was thought to be a time when the space shortened between the world of the living and the dead. It was a time where people honored their loved ones, and ancestors returned to visit the living and offer help and advice. In these ancient times, people would put lights into hollowed-out turnips to guide the spirits and put food out as an offering to lure them home. People were not afraid of these spirits for they were family, givers of life.
This tradition remains today in a different form, the turnips turned into carved pumpkins and the food offerings changed into a colorful array of candy. However, with the exception of the Latinos’ Día de los Muertos and the Catholics’ All Saint’s and Souls’ Days, a bulk majority of people who celebrate Halloween have omitted the aspect of honoring and remembering the spirits of their ancestors. As historians remind us, by remembering and acknowledging our past, we can better settle into our present and future, and we can gain a better understanding of ourselves and the world. On this Samhain, I challenge myself and you to reflect on this lost element of the holiday. Why do you think we have let go of this part of the celebration? Does it have anything to do with people wanting or being forced to forget their past? Or is it a reflection of the growing fear of death in our society?
As the population reaches 7 billion today, the Samhain tradition offers up another challenge. Samhain reminds us that death is a natural part of life and recognizes how death can be a gift. This view of death is not often embraced, however may offer insight toward a healthier frame to organize the way we grieve and view loss. On a metaphorical level, death makes room for the birth of new possibilities and change and growth. Without death, there would be no room to develop. In this light, in the past, Halloween (Samhain) was actually celebrated in a fashion similar to New Year’s Day. Because during this time people focused a lot on death, it also became a celebration for new beginnings–an uncertain time where people could dream about the future and hope for change.
Right now I see how I am experiencing the “New Year” aspect of Samhain. As I let go of my old website and prepare to finish a two and a half-year Master’s program, I find Mandala Reflections to be one of my new beginnings. When I think on the meaning of Samhain, I find myself exactly where I need to be. By honoring the nature of the season of death/life, I am learning to embrace this waiting and dreaming period. I have faith that time will eventually expose more new beginnings (with a little help from my ancestors).
Speaking of nature and time, to end on a necessary note, below is a picture of my Halloween costume (I’m on the right). Oddly enough, my husband and I went as Father Time and Mother Nature. Definitely a coincidence but thought it was cool our costumes seemed to fit this post well.