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The Samhain Season

I love Samhain.

Like most kids Halloween was one of my favorite times of the year. Growing up in Texas it was especially nice because it usually meant a much needed change in the weather was coming – cooler days and longer nights rode in on the wings of costumes, trick-or-treating and free candy.

I didn’t know about the spiritual side, however; I was raised in a very Christian household. I honestly don’t think my family knew much about it either based on what they ignorantly said about “Devil’s Night” and such. In hindsight, I’m surprised we were allowed to trick-or-treat at all.

Since I’ve become Pagan, I’ve learned about the symbolism and the spiritual side of Halloween; the traditional celebration of the last harvest of the growing season and the preparations for the coming Winter months as well as remembering those that have passed on from this life into the next.

I can really only imagine the good times had by those with a good harvest as the hard work of the summer wound down. It’s not something I’m likely ever to experience. I have a modest garden that yields some produce but I’m definitely not dependent upon it. I focus instead on the spiritual seeds I planted earlier in the year during Imbolc and Ostara. I look at what they have yielded in my life and find there is still room to celebrate. I worked on parts of my path that resulted in some very positive changes in my life.

I also learned about the thinning of the veil between worlds and communicating with the dead. I first experienced this a couple of years ago at a Samhain meetup near my home. The group facilitated a beautiful ritual where we each sent a message to a departed loved one. I remember feeling suddenly connected to that person – a very close uncle of mine. I was flooded with memories of him and could truly feel him with me. It was an amazing experience.

Every year Samhain seems to fly by way too quickly for me, especially when compared to other Sabbats like Yule. Yule seems to last for weeks – beginning with Thanksgiving and ending on New Year’s Day. I feel like I spend most of October just getting ready for the 31st only to have it abruptly end when I finally get to sleep.

I met someone who felt the same way at our Ostara gathering earlier this year. We talked about some different things that we can do to extend it from just one day to a whole season. It turns out it isn’t difficult to do. There are a few other things that happen at the end of October and early November.

Several other cultures also have holidays to remember the dead near October 31st. One is the Latin American holiday Dia de los Muertos. Although my family didn’t celebrate it, growing up I knew some people who did. It also begins on October 31st. The three-day celebration of Dia de los Muertos coincides with the timing of the Catholic Christian holidays of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, holidays for honoring Christian saints and remembering departed family members. This is obviously not a coincidence but that discussion is for another article.

My wife is Christian so this overlap of traditions around remembering the dead is an opportunity for us to share our October holidays with each other.

I also did not know that the actual cross-quarter day is rarely, if ever, on October 31st. This year, for example, it falls closer to November 6th. We plan to mark that day with a small fire ceremony.

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So, again, I love Samhain, even more now than I ever did. It still has that childhood pull for me when I watch my kids get excited about picking out their Halloween costumes, carve our pumpkins, and rush home from school to get ready to go trick-or-treating. But, as I’ve gotten to know more about it as a Pagan, it’s taken on a much deeper meaning for me. I like remembering and spending time with those I miss on the other side while marking the turning of the wheel.

The signpost for me is to also remember to take a break from all of the hard spiritual work I’ve put in over the past year and celebrate a good spiritual harvest. In my home this year we’ll be doing Samhain-related things all month long. We’ll start by decorating the house in seasonal colors and setting up an altar to remember those who have left us. We’ll pick out costumes, carve some pumpkins and go trick-or-treating with our kids. We’re also hosting a Dia de los Muertos celebration with some family and friends. I’ll end our Samhain season by marking the astronomical cross-quarter on November 6th, just in time to start preparing for the next holiday.

How do you celebrate Samhain? What plans are you making?