A time of celebrations – Samhain and Halloween

Megan jonesChaplain’s Corner

Padre Megan Jones

It’s that time of year again, when we mark the changing of the seasons. Those beautiful golden leaves have started to fall and snowflakes are already flying. Each change of the seasons have their own customs and traditions. And as we shift from the fall into those long winter nights, there are plenty of rituals and celebrations to be had.

Many children in Cold Lake are eagerly anticipating a celebration that marks the end of the fall and the beginning of that cold winter weather. They are picking out costumes, carving pumpkins and decorating the house with ghosts and goblins as they get ready to celebrate Halloween. And while this night will look different due to COVID-19, children are getting excited for some safe and socially distanced trick-or-treating.

As a chaplain, one of the beautiful gifts of my trade is to learn as much as I can about other faith traditions, their celebrations and rituals. And this year, I have been blessed to learn about a festival from Celtic Polytheism which takes place from October 30th to November 1st. Samhain (pronounced suh-win) is the first holiday of the year for pagans and neo-pagans. It is a celebration that is rich in meaning and traditions. And some of its symbolism has given rise to many of our beloved Halloween traditions.

Samhain marks the end of the summer and harvest seasons and the beginning of the dark days of winter. During this time, it’s believed the boundary between the world of the living and the dead becomes thinned and blurred. Because of this, our ancestors and other spirits may return to visit us. It is a time for deep reflection, celebration and commemoration for those who have gone before us. Feasts are usually held and it’s traditional to set a place at the table with an empty seat for those who have passed away.

Samhain also marks the beginning of the Wild Hunt. Various Gods or Goddesses lead this spectral horde in which they gather up the souls of the departed and take them to the next world. Avoiding the Hunt is a good rule of thumb. And some would caution that if you were to ever witness it, you would be swept up in it and taken to the land of the dead. Pagans used to carve turnips and leave them on windowsills to ward off these wayward spirits. Today we carve pumpkins; leaving them on our doorsteps to welcome trick-or-treaters. Some pagans also wore masks so that the Hunt wouldn’t recognize them and carry them off. This tradition carried on but changed over time. In the UK during the 18th century, masks were no longer worn to avoid the soul-snatching Hunt, but rather, to trick your neighbours until they paid the price of sweat treats.

Whether you’ll be celebrating Halloween with some social-distancing trick-or-treating or sinking into the beautifully contemplative and reflective holiday of Samhain, blessed be your celebrations.

A special thank-you to Tanya St-Jacques for her generous teachings and being a fantastic source of information for this article.

megan.jones@forces.gc.ca