Here’s a haunted house my daughter created for today (windows and doors open up to reveal scary things).
A few posts ago I talked about the fall’s “new year” feeling. I mentioned the Jewish New Year being celebrated in the fall, but I forgot about the Celtic New Year, Samhain (pronounced more like s-aun, I think). The Celts of pre-Christian Ireland and Scotland had a circular view of life, and around October 31 they celebrated the end of summer and harvest at the same time as they looked forward to the new life and light that would emerge out of the death and darkness of winter. Samhain was considered a time when the boundary between the living world and the otherworld was thinest, when the dead could return and warm themselves at the hearth fires of the living and some of the living (such as poets) could enter the otherworld at certain special locations.
Samhain was Christianized into All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day on November 1, and Oct 31 became All Hallows Even (Halloween). People dressed in costumes to either scare away evil spirits or blend in with the dead who may have returned for a visit. Bonfires (bone-fires, on which bones of cattle slaughtered for the winter were thrown) were lit to fend off evil, unite the community and remind of the light to return in the spring, divination games were played, and turnips (later, pumpkins) were carved with scary faces to scare away evil spirits or possibly to symbolize skulls of the dead.
It’s hard to know exactly what the original meanings were behind the different symbols and customs now associated with today’s candy-eating, costume-wearing celebration, but it sounds like it was not only a sacred or more deeply meaningful time for the ancient Celts, but it was also fun even then.
(Jack-o-lantern quilt made by my mother-in-law)