I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before – we’re farmers here in the Pacific Northwest, cultivating the land that my husband’s family bought when he was only four years old. When I came out to the farm about seven years ago, living with seasonal rhythms took on a whole new and more intrinsic meaning to me. Although there is work year round, especially with the animals, our busy summer season starts in June (although the preparation of seeding, etc. begins much earlier than that), and it ends around Hallowe’en.
Besides raising animals and growing a plethora of fruits, vegetables, and grains, we also have pumpkin patches and throw a Harvest Festival all October long – we press apples for hot spiced cider, have u-pick pumpkins, toss pumpkins from a trebuchet, the whole bit!
At any rate, October is a non-stop busy time, and when Hallowe’en comes, it feels like New Year’s Eve…it marks the end of a long, busy season, and the beginning of a new mode of being on the farm.
Shortly after moving to the farm, I read about Samhain, the Gaelic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season on October 31st & considered by many scholars to have been the Celtic New Year. Although scholarship varies a bit on the genesis of Hallowe’en, many accounts hold that when the current dates for All Saints’ Day & All Souls’ Day were established (November 1st & 2nd) by the Church, Samhain & its customs transitioned to All Hallows’ Eve celebrations.
This notion of October 31st having been held as a New Year by a primarily agrarian society really hit home with me after experiencing the seasonal rhythms on the farm, since it marks such a profound shift for us, too.
Now, Hallowe’en has always been my favorite holiday. I’m an Autumn girl through and through (I love each season for what it brings, but falling yellow leaves have my heart), and I’ve always loved anything remotely spooky or mysterious. The topsy-turvy nature of dressing in costume and gathering treats was both fun and surreal as a kid.
In adulthood, my celebrations of Hallowe’en waned for a long while as I tried to figure out how to engage with this holiday in new phases of life, once that wide-eyed wonder of childhood gave way a bit. A swan song we all hear & recite, so many holidays have been bereft of their meaning…they’re often like echoes now, celebrations marking fuzzy memories…motions being gone through, without a lot of understanding of why.
“When we’re cut off from the moon, the night, and the waters of mystery, the spiritual world is blinding and blisteringly arid. Mystery refreshes us.
CHRISTOPHER HILL, “HOLIDAYS AND HOLY NIGHTS”
Experiencing life on the farm helped to open up so much of Hallowe’en and its mystery for me, since I more acutely saw its classic role as a “liminal” evening – a surprising eve of transition, an embracing of the mysterious night, an end of one season and the beginning of another. After a month of selling pumpkins, it was time to finally carve a mysterious grin into one and place a candle inside. As a kiddo, that topsy-turvy liminality took the form of playing dress up wandering from house to house, where glowing pumpkin shells guided our way; as an adult, I became more aware of the steady march of the seasons, and that awareness leads back to wonder and the “waters of mystery.”
Encountering theories about the roots of Hallowe’en’s traditions & customs and embracing it in its role as the vigil of All Saints’ Day, & thus its relation to All Souls’ Day, enlivened the holiday for me, too, and lent me lots of age-old wisdom for celebrating it with family.
Trick-or-treating, carving Jack-o-Lanterns, etc. are all very much a part of our tradition (as well as “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”!), but we’ve adopted some other customs over the years. I bake soul cakes each Hallowe’en – little shortcakes with a cross in the center – which were traditionally given out during Hallowtide in exchange for prayers for the departed. I like to portion the soul cakes into jars to give to friends & family, along with a copy of the Souling Song:
A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.
We light candles for our departed loved ones, setting aside some dedicated time to reflect & remember in the midst of the busy shuffle of day to day life.
“We live in a time that so glorifies youth & everything new that we have lost respect for the old, for our roots, for our heritage of traditions. I think that ‘ancestor worship’ is really an engaging of our own place in history & in the grand scheme of things. We recognize who has contributed to who we are and that we contribute to those who come after us.”
GERTRUD MUELLER NELSON, “To Dance With God“
I always like to buy pomegranates to snack on, too, inspired by the story of Persephone, which has so indelibly associated pomegranate seeds with the underworld/afterlife.
I find that tangible traditions like these help to serve as reminders for me – signposts or signals that pull me back to the core of the celebration. Reminders of transition & mystery, of the crossing of thresholds.