I grew up in California enjoying Halloween with all my friends. That was back in the day when most neighbors handed out candy and we could safely go ‘trick or treating’ on our own. I loved carving pumpkins and bobbing for apples. My favorite part of Halloween was dressing up and sorting through our candy at the end of the night. While Halloween is very much an American tradition, I didn’t know what Samhain was until I was an adult. Every year we see the debate about “The War on Christmas”, but there’s no war between Samhain and Halloween.
I first learned about pagan holy days when I was steeped in fundamentalist Christianity. My only source for ‘truth’ was what Christians told me….until I found Google. (Thanks, Google!)
Once we departed from that commune of belief, I started to see more about pagan tradition, cultures, and history in a way that stimulated my intellect. Now I love observing Samhain with my family! In fact, a lot of our Samhain traditions were traditions I had already practiced in church. In church we honored the Departed one Sunday out of the year and called it ‘Heaven Night’. The church walls were adorned with large photos of our departed loved ones and we spent the evening talking about our memories of them. Samhain is a lot like that!
We set up a sacred space for our departed loved ones and set out their photos. We also include other items they enjoyed while they were on Earth. We light candles and make their favorite foods (or their recipes that we loved too).
In our family we celebrate both Samhain and Halloween. My third daughter once asked me what our culture was. She had been learning about other people’s cultures and she wondered about ours. Very simply, we’re Americans and our culture is Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and Superbowl Sunday. Funny as that seems, that’s American culture.
Our ancestors lived throughout the region where Samhain was observed. We have ancestors from the wider old Germanic region encompassing Norway, Ireland, and Scandinavia. My husband’s family had ancestors in Italy and The Netherlands. We honor all our ancestors so our children can appreciate their ancient heritage.
The main part of Samhain that we observe is the honoring of our ancestors. We set up a family altar with their photos and trinkets that they loved from a thimble to specific fruits and other baked goods. We also create crafts associated with that. We have a memory catcher (like a dream catcher) that has various colors of ribbons with their photos attached. If you join our Circle of Intuition you can watch the mini class on how to make this.
Along with Samhain, we’ll be carving pumpkins, decorating the home to scare off the ghouls and goblins, and going trick or treating. I think we can have the best of both worlds.
May your ancestors bless you this season,