Updated: Nov 21, 2022
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Halloween, Samhain, All Hallow's Eve, Dia De Los Muertos ... whichever of these traditions we celebrate, people around the world take the last days of October and the first days of November to celebrate death, honor our ancestors, dress up, and eat candy. "Dress up and eat candy"? Wait, that part doesn't sound so romantic as "honor our ancestors". Why are we dressing up and eating candy? Where do the lanterns come in?
Vital to understanding the depth of our actions when we offer candy to trick-or-treating kiddos and when we help our own kiddo plan costumes, is the idea that we honor our ancestors by honoring our children. We could get into a deep conversation on reincarnation and whether we believe in it or not, but frankly, it isn't relevant. Whether we believe our ancestors return to us as our children or not, we all recognize that we carry the blood of our ancestors and we pass that blood to our children. Our ancestors live on in our children and in turn, their children are living in them now. Every piece of candy placed in a trick-or-treating child's bag is an offering to our ancestors and also to our descendants. We are recognizing our place in The Great Circle. That circle must include death or it couldn't include life.
But death is often painful, ugly, smelly, sad... it can be hard to celebrate. We intentionally eat a sweet thing because while we are celebrating The Great Passage, we are still living and we must remember to cherish the sweet things in life while they are before us. Never again feel guilty for enjoying that bit of chocolate near Halloween- it is your duty to eat it and love it and taste it and make "mmm" noises. We are responsible for remembering that which is good and sweet and pure (pure sugar counts as pure - right?). After candy is sorted, we all sit together and choose what looks to be the yummiest piece to place on the alter as an offering. The second yummiest piece we eat together in silence. (Okay that is not true- there are lots of "mmm" noises- but we eat the sweetness with intention.)
But why dress-ups? I have heard before that in the way-back-days they believed that the dead could return this night to visit those they miss (or perhaps those they are angry with). Many today still feel close to those they have lost at this time and recognize the "thinning of the veils" as it is called, when we can move between the worlds. In regards to a tradition, it makes sense to dress up if perhaps you pissed someone off and you don't want to be recognized. But I think there is more to it than left over tradition. If we as the ones making an offering of candy are placing ourselves in The Great Circle, then too, the children are in that circle. When they come to our door, they are more than themselves. They are all who have come before them but also, they are all who may come after them. They have unlimited potential and they act this out by dressing as who or what ever they could possibly wish to be.
And the Jack-o-Lanters? Well, this is another tradition that has hung around from the way-back-days. The lanterns were often turnips. The were functional in both the physical and spiritual realms. This was a time before porch lights and flashlights so carving a squash or turnip and placing a light inside would provide light to those who were going door to door. Larger squash, like pumpkins, next to the door let the children know they were welcome and smaller turnips could be carried by the child between homes. On the spiritual level, they were (and still are) a guiding light to bring our ancestors back to us or a warning to a spirit who may wish us harm. Of course my boys want to carve scary faces and of course I let them. The heebie-jeebies who might come to creep us out are scared away by our pumpkins. I always carve a welcoming face too though, and I know that should my grandma want to see if I'm really practicing that crochet she taught me, she will know where to find me. When I'm REEEEEAAALLY on my witchy game, I clean the house- like CLEAN THE HOUSE and we take the lanterns around and shine them into the darkest corners, reflecting the light off the walls. First the scary one to scare away anything yucky that may have hidden there. Then the smiling one, to fill the space back up with joy. When my kids were little they loved this. Now they roll their eyes as we move about the house, but they still join me so I know deep inside there is still magic in this act.
Sometimes we feel that in order to celebrate a Holy Day we must go all out and prepare and be crazy with it. But that just isn't true. A bowl of candy gifted with intention is an offering made. A costume from the store is magical. Lanterns can be carved or they can be reusable. It has more to do with our thoughts as we place the candy in a child's bag and our intentions as we light the candle in the lantern than how Pinterest worthy our celebration is. Take a moment- just one- to eat a piece of something yummy and think about all that is sweet in life. Talk about the grandparents who are no longer with us. Tell the stories they told you. Call (or visit safely) the grand parents who are with us and listen to the stories of their grandparents and their childhood.
Because of Covid, we may not be handing candy out to the children of the neighborhood, but we can offer it to our own children. If you do not have children, place a piece of candy in your lantern outside your door as a symbol of the offering you intend to be making. Our own children may not be going door to door, but we can craft or buy costumes, eat a grand feast of our grandparent's favorite foods, fill our bellies with candy, carve lanterns, remember those who have passed with a drink and toast and generally have a grand time. This is a special year - its not often that we get Samhain on a weekend AND a full moon! Lets make the most of it.
Do you have other traditions? I would love to hear more about how you celebrate this season in your home! Share below in the comments! If you are interested in making the hat I am wearing in these photos, check out the Salem Slouch.