Halloween started as Samhain, the Celtic festival celebrated by bonfires and costumes designed to ward off spirits of the dead.
We continue that ancient concept with trick or treating and candles burning in jack-o-lanterns.
All Saints Day, celebrated November 1, came about in 835 CE, when Pope Gregory III wanted a more Christian holiday. Celebrating all the saints, it incorporated some of the Samhain traditions, with the night before called “All Hallows Eve.” A name that later morphed into Halloween.
Some historians date All Saints Day even further back in history. During the 4th century, Greek Christians celebrated a day for all saints and martyrs. That was set on the first Sunday after Pentecost, late May or early June. Regardless of its original date, Christians around the world now celebrate all their Saints on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2nd, with prayers for the dead.
Many years ago, my grandfather died in late October. We buried him on Halloween, which felt very fitting. He was a bit of a pagan himself, a man of the earth. A man who farmed as a boy and gardened until the day he died.
The new year for ancient Celts started November 1, so October 31 was an important date. Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) meant that the growing season was over, and winter would soon settle in. The night between the old and the new year was believed to be the thinnest line between us and the dead. The dead could return to walk in our world, and fires were burned and sacrifices were made to protect the living and keep bad luck away for the new year.
While today in the US a lot of Halloween is about costumes for the kiddies and bags of candy, we still carry on the tradition of believing this night is open to the spirits. That those who have gone ahead might return, often to do great mischief.
But this is also a time to reflect on the change of the season. We are now fully into fall in the Northern hemisphere. The trees drop their leaves, snow paints our local mountaintops white. Our days grow short and the nights cold. Around here in North bend, the elk are bugling and the river has begun to rise.
I’ve always enjoyed Halloween. Though I don’t decorate the house anymore, we have no trick or treaters on our little one-lane rural road, I still feel a sense of mystery and wonder at this night when spirits might walk among us. I cherish those no longer with us, though the ones I miss most are on four legs.
I count my blessings for my loved ones still with me, and treasure this most wonderful season before the long dark days of winter arrive.
Regardless of your beliefs, take a moment today to honor the dead, light a candle to keep bad luck at bay, and enjoy sweet treats to celebrate life.
Wherever you are, Happy Halloween!
—With love from the Snoqualmie Valley
Elena Taylor is the author of All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio book format at all your favorite bookstores and on-line retailers.
For more information on All We Buried, click on the link here to visit the home page.
Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Investigator 2020
Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery 2020
Jack-o-lantern photo by Bany_MM on Pixabay.