Sure I like Danzig and 80s punk as much as the next person, but I’m talking about the origin of Halloween, one of the world’s oldest holidays! Today’s celebration as we know it has its roots in the Gaelic festival of Samhain. This word is tricky to pronounce. Unlike the pronunciation of the band’s name (sam-hain), the holiday is actually pronounced sow-en or sah-win. Samhain is the name of the month of November in Gaelic as well.
Artwork depicting a Samhain festival (photo credit sussex.edu)
This was a harvest and slaughter time festival that celebrated a nature’s bounty as well as the beginning of winter, or the darker half of the year. Samhain, and subsequently Halloween, was celebrated from sunset 10/31 to sunrise 11/1 because this time is exactly half way between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice. In the southern hemisphere it is celebrated 4/30-5/1. This is why we celebrate at night rather than in the morning like the other candy giving holidays–and now candy is our bountiful harvest!
These seasonal flower fairies books are great for inspiring the children with garden poetry all based on plants of the season. The illustrations are fantastic and the books are botanically informative and fun.
During the night of Samhain, bonfires were lit and celebrated with rituals for cleansing. Pagan gods, nature spirits, faeries, and the spirits of our ancestors were thought to be closer to our world and more easily accessed during this night. Rituals were preformed to appease these spirits in hopes of winter survival, and food and drink were left out for the spirits and the souls of ancestors. An influence on the celebrations of All Souls Day and el Dia de los Muertos, great feasts were held on Samhain with place settings created for deceased relatives.
This is the Oweynagat, or the cave of cats. It has been believed for centuries that this is the place where the veil between the worlds is thinnest on the night of Samhain. It is located in Ireland.
(Photo credit www.tregwernin.com)
Along with the traditional fall harvest crops such as winter squash, apples and nuts were also a part of the tradition’s festivities. You can see the correlation to bowls of cracking nuts and bobbing for apple traditions at the fall festivals of today.
Colonial apple bobbing art work (Photo credit amayodruid.blogspot.com)
Our Halloween costume tradition is a direct appropriation of the Samhain traditions of mumming and guising. This is the English Isles tradition of going house to house and performing plays in costume in exchange for food. Now, we may not perform plays, but you can understand why we say trick or treat! The trick would be the act and the candy the pay off. It is believed that the plays were performed in costume as a way to hide from the tricks of the spirits.
Explore celtic artwork to tie Samhain into your art and history lessons
(photo credit www.irishfoodguide.ie)
So however you decide to celebrate today, it all has its roots in harvest celebrations of Samhain. Perhaps you can decorate your garden with your students, prepare a harvest feast to share, or take time out to make a conscious appreciation of the plants and energies that grow around you and with you! Then go harvest some candy!
What is your favorite way to celebrate your garden’s harvest? Share your ideas with pictures if you would like and I’ll post them on a Pintrest board!
Seeds to Sprout:
Give a shout out to Samhain with fun facts, traditions, and activities, straight from England. Gather up some brooms, apples, pumpkins, acorns (sound familiar?) bake some bread and you are set!
Get the full story of Halloween at halloweenhistory.org
Sunday, November 3, there is a hybrid eclipse of the sun and Jacksonville, FL is a premier viewing spot-in the whole world! Learn more, get up early, and don’t miss this unique event!
I could definitely do some nature appreciating here!
(photo credit myeducationofagardener.wordpress.com)