The History of Halloween
The Celtic peoples called the time between Samhain (pronounced "SOW-in" in Ireland, SOW-een in Wales, "SAV-en" in Scotland or even "SAM-haine" in non Gaelic speaking countries) and Brigid's Day "the period of little sun." Thus, Samhain is often named the "Last Harvest" or "Summer's End". While almost all Celtic based traditions recognize this Holiday as the end of the "old" year, some groups do not celebrate the coming of the "new year" until Yule. Some consider the time between Samhain and Yule as a time which does not even exist on the Earthly plane. The "time which is no time" was considered in the "old days" to be both very magickal and very dangerous. So even today, we celebrate this Holiday with a mixture of joyous celebration and 'spine tingling" reverence.
The Samhain Holiday begins at sundown on October 31st. The nightide was always a time to be wary of walking alone in the countryside. So much more on this Night when the veils between the worlds of humans and spirits was at its thinnest. Traditional lore speaks of the dead returning to visit their kin and the doors to the Lands of the Sidhe (pronounced "shee") or Faery Realm being opened.
"The Feast of the Dead" ("Fleadh nan Mairbh") is laid out by many to welcome these otherworldly visitors and gain their favor for the coming year. Many folks leave milk and cakes ("Bannock Samhain") outside their door on Samhain Eve or set a place at their table for their ancestors who may want to join in the celebrations with their kin and family. It is also customary to light a new candle for the "new year". This ritual harkens back to the days when Samhain was one of only two days- the other being Beltaine-when it was considered correct to extinguish the "hearth fire" and then to re-light it. If your fire failed at any other time of the year, it was thought to be very bad luck indeed.
Many Witches of the Old Ways, actually celebrate "two" Samhains or Halloweens (Yes, some older traditions DO use the term "halloween"!). The "Old" date for Samhain occurs when the sun has reached 15 degrees Scorpio. (As a side note, the Catholic Church has "borrowed" this same day to celebrate the holiday of "Martinmas".) So if you follow this Way, you can always celebrate the "party aspect" with your friends on one date and the "worship" part with your kin on the other.
Common Holiday Traditions
3 -4 weeks before Halloween. Make it a family event! Either assign different areas to different people, or give them a certain topic. Who's in charge of spider webs and spiders? Ghosts? Hanging lights in just the right spot? And of course, don't forget the skeletons and creepy monsters. Make a "family cemetery" with tombstones for each of your family members.
1 - 2 weeks before Halloween. You don't have to go to your local supermarket to find great pumpkins - there are plenty of places around within driving distance to take the family to not only pick out the best pumpkins, but to have a day filled with fun! Watch for the signs on the road, check your local paper. Many people grow pumpkins and then sell them at this wonderful time of year. Most don't just sell pumpkins either! You can get a nice cup of hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick, go for a hayride, check out a corn field maze, or take a walk through a haunted barn. These kinds of places are usually family owned and know what kind of entertainment other families are looking for. Enjoy watching your child rolling a 20 pound pumpkin back to the hay wagon instead of digging through a large wooden crate outside the grocery store.
2- 7 days before Halloween. Make sure you have enough pumpkins for everyone to carve at least one. Can't wait for the pumpkin seeds to be ready? Pick some up from the store so you can have some ready on hand to enjoy while carving! Prepare a spoooooooooooooky meal to eat along with your party. Try some "ghoulash" or "Spooketti" with a "blood" red drink. Make "bones" (breadsticks) to go along. Have plenty of candles on hand so when you are all done carving you can run outside, place your jack-o-lanterns and end your party with a firey show of evil, happy, and scary faces!
The most important part of a Halloween party is to have fun together. Bob for apples, play ghost in the graveyard, watch scary movies, read a scary story by candelight or flashlight. If your area allows it, have a campfire and tell ghost stories. For dinner, serve something inventive - give it a spooky name - werewolf burgers, eye ball soup, what ever you can think of. For desert and snacking try popcorn balls, taffy apples, and of course, pumpkin pie!