Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “sow-win”) is an ancient Celtic festival marking the end of the summer harvest and ushers in the beginning of the winter months. You may also know it as Halloween.
Traditionally it is held on 1 November, but celebrations begin on the evening of 31 October, as the Celtic days began and ended at sunset. Samhain is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, and is officially the start of the Celtic new year.
During Samhain, hearth fires within the home were left to burn out while the final harvest was collected by the village. When the last harvest was finally collected, Druid priests lit a huge fire using a wheel that represented the sun, using sparks from its embers. Each then took a flame from the bonfire back to their home to relight their own hearths. Samhain celebrations took place over three days and three nights, with huge feasts and the drinking of much mead and wine.
According to Irish mythology, Samhain is a time when the doorways to the Otherworld open. The veil between our worlds is at its thinnest, allowing supernatural beings and the souls of ancestors to pass into our world; Samhain is a festival for the dead. The Celts left offerings outside their homes for fairies or spirits so that they were not tempted to kidnap or trick those inside.
Dumb Suppers were also held, where food was prepared and eaten by the household but only after asking their ancestors to join in. A plate of food would be left out for any visiting family spirts.
How to celebrate Samhain
Honouring your ancestors direct and old is the most sacred of traditions on Samhain. There are many ways you can do this, but whichever ritual you choose should feel personal and right by you. Take the time to prepare a home cooked meal if you can, eat with the season choosing what nature is providing during the autumn months. Apples, squashes, root vegetables, berries, nuts, pears and pumpkins for example. Go back to basics and turn away from technology when you sit down to eat. Light candles and decorate the table with autumn foliage to honour the season. Invite family and friends to dine with you, share stories and good fortunes. Plate up a meal for ancestors past, just something small to honour their presence. Welcome them to the table among the family present and invite them to join the festivities. Once the meal is over and all is quiet, leave the food overnight somewhere in your home and return the food to the Earth the following day, being mindful of ancestors across the veil. Give back to the Earth with thanks.