Archive for the ‘#halloween’ Tag

Samhain Revisited   27 comments

Halloween/Fall is coming, do you celebrate? What does that look like? Is it different this year?

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Separating Celebrations

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I love fall. It’s my favorite time of year and I decorate for it. Alaska only has a couple of weeks of fall in early September, so I would get gypped if I didn’t hang fall floral swag in my living room. I generally take them down when I decorate for Christmas on Black Friday. When we had dogs, we’d stack their winter bedding bales on the porch for an impromptu autumn display and our daughter would usually provide a friendly scarecrow and a couple of happy jack-o-lanterns.


Halloween started as Samhain – a Celtic high holiday when, it was believed, the veil between the living world and the underworld thinned and the spirits of the dead could walk the earth. The Catholic Church tried to turn it into All Souls Day followed by All Saint’s Day on November 1, but they weren’t wholly successful because the Hispanic countries still celebrate it as Dia de la Morte – a holiday honoring the dead. In most of the Western World, the 20th century saw a marketing blitz that morphed these holidays in a fun kids holiday we call Halloween, although in recent decades, the pagan movement has revived Samhain celebrations.

Winter fell on Fairbanks this past weekend and we already have about four inches of snow, so by Halloween, it will truly be winter and might be 20 below zero on that day. Needless to say, that affects Halloween celebrations. Yes, we still have tricks and treats at the door, but our kids can’t really dress for it because they need to wear outerwear. And you don’t linger at the door giving out candy because that’s heating oil fogging out into the air trying to heat the planet. I always remember Halloween as an exercise in flirting with frostbite. We thoroughly enjoyed one Halloween when we visited in New Hampshire. No snow, incredible leaves, our daughter could wear her costume. But most years, Halloween is kind of painful here.

I also don’t particularly care for the holiday since we lived next-door to practicing pagans who would host Samhain bonfires complete with invocations to various underworld gods, including Satan.

Yes, I know it’s morphed into a fun holiday for children and adults looking for an excuse to party. I used to celebrate it myself. It was my husband’s favorite holiday for many years and he always took the kids around. Our daughter is a total actress and Halloween was a holiday made for thespians. But that experience with those former neighbors reminds me that it’s not all fun and games and there’s some people who remember the “old ways” and believe that modern society celebrating it feeds the power of worship to their preferred gods. As a Christian, I hesitate to encourage them with my own celebration.

In 1st Corinthians Christians are told that the rituals of this world have no meaning or power over those who don’t believe them (like Christians), but the apostle Paul also warns that when we participate in the world’s rituals and it causes others to stumble, we’re responsible for the harm that stumbling causes. I can’t comfortably celebrate Halloween knowing that there are pagans who think there is deeper significance than candy apples and the latest Disney character costume. I couldn’t escape the feeling that participating made me a hypocrite, so I stopped.

If you’re still celebrating Halloween, enjoy! I absolutely have no problem with people other than me celebrating it as a fun celebration. This is just a personal choice I made.

Instead of manning the door and the candy bowl at home, I now often volunteer at our church’s Fall Festival, which is an (indoors!) Halloween alternative. It’s got the candy, the games and the fun costumes (no ghouls or witches) without the Samhain/Dia de le Morte connotations. Brad might still make an effort if winter arrives late and we have near-freezing temperatures (that’s comfortable for us and with polypropylene underwear, you can actually wear costumes), but most years he locks the gates and keeps the lights low.

I guess that makes us Halloween grinches (though the kids seem to really enjoy the Fall Festival). Halloween is a fun time for kids, but when I look at it reasonable, it’s got this whole dark side that most people prefer to ignore and which our former neighbors made sure we were fully aware.

Covid19 Differences

I don’t know if it will be different this year. Our neighbors who celebrate it decorated their lawns again this year. The church hasn’t mentioned the Fall Festival, but I missed last weekend to go out to a cabin in the woods with my husband and friends (conveniently located near a hot springs resort) so I might have just missed the invitation and will learn of it on Sunday — or if I’d bother to read my email. I have noticed a lack of advertisements for indoor Halloween (the malls often host something, but there’s been a rash of store closures in the CVD19 pandemic, so maybe the malls can’t afford it this year) and I know for certain the Halloween Horror House won’t happen this year. Our daughter used to be a participant, so we got the notice that they wouldn’t need her acting skills this year. She was a truly scary mental patient one year.

Alaska hardly closed for CVD19. Our church was closed two months (two weeks of that voluntarily before the State mandated it) and the State of Alaska lifted restrictions in late-May. Mask-wearing is voluntary here except a few businesses have made rules that people more or less ignore. We are currently experiencing a spike in positive tests (in keeping with the start of cold and flu season here), but hospitalizations and deaths remain low (0.1% and 0.06% respectively), so I suspect door-to-door will still happen. After all, if you believe masks protect us all from CVD19, Halloween is a perfect holiday to show it.

Posted October 26, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Samhain   11 comments

Halloween has always been a sort of ho-hum holiday for me. I grew up in Alaska, where winter arrives in mid-October, so by October 31st, it’s usually cold, there’s snow on the ground and it’s dark by the time school let’s out. You can’t really do a costume because you have got to wear a coat, boots, a hat, and gloves. I guess you could go as a hockey player.

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Image result for image of halloweenAnother reason that I’m a bit ambivalent about the holiday is that I’m not a huge candy eater. I’m not generally a picky eater, except when it comes to sweet things. I like chocolate without nuts or anything else and pretty much everything else is disgusting to me. So I often ended up with a bag full of stuff I wouldn’t eat. The year I turned 8, a bunch of local kids were hospitalized when some college students at an apartment complex dosed the candy with some chemical that induced violent vomiting. After that, my parents would only allow me to trick-or-treat at homes with people we knew. The year I turned 10, I chose to not trick-or-treat and pretty much never did again.

When my kids were little, a local church would do a fun holiday festival that allowed them to dress up, do activities indoors and get some candy out of the deal. Our daughter trick-or-treated with friends in high school. Our son has accompanied younger kids as a body guard. But mostly, it is still too cold by October 31 to enjoy going door to door in a costume.

Image result for image of samhainSo, that’s all I have to say about Halloween, but that holiday is a modern recreation of an ancient Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. In ancient times, it was the start of the new year, celebrated from sunset on October 31 to sunset on November 1, about halfway between the autumnal equinox (September 21) and the winter solstice (December 21). It was one of the four Celtic seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. Back then, it was called Samhain (pronouced Sow-in).

Of course it was a pagan festival that is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature. It was a time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and livestock was slaughtered for the winter. Special bonfires were lit that were meant to have protective and cleaning powers. The rituals involved were meant to protect the living from the dead as Samhain was considered a liminal time when the boundary between our world and the Otherwould could easily crossed. People sought to propitiate the fairies (or the dead) to ensure that people and livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left outside for them. Costumes were worn door to door, perhaps as a way of imitating the fairies.

Image result for image of samhain

In the 9th century AD, Western Christianity shifted the date of All Saints Day to November 1. All Souls’ Day was held on November 2. Eventually, the two holidays became a single modern celebration of Halloween.

Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch and Mirklin Wood) is a Celtic-influenced fantasy series, so I borrow heavily from Samhain traditions for scenes in the third book. I have the village where Padraig is staying gather for observance. They build a bonfire, there is discussion of the fall slaughter, the sheep being brought to the winter pastures, the local priest performs a ritual. People are meant to extinguish their fires before they go to the observance and then kindle them anew from the Samhain bonfire in the village. I use these details to create tension between my Believer main character and the society in which he is residing.

Image result for image of samhainBecause the boundary between the world and the Otherworld is considered thin at Samhain, I make use of it for my own purposes. You’ll have to read the book (Fount of Dreams) to find out what I did with it.

Several years ago, Brad and I lived next door to some neopagans (they might also have been Wiccans. They were kind of hostile to Christians, so we never asked them). One Halloween night, when we were coming home from the fall festival with our children, the neighbors had built a bonfire in their front yard. They were walking around it muttering invocations of some sort and tossing what we assumed to be salt over their shoulders. That was actually what caused me to research Samhain in the first place. It fit perfectly into Daermad Cycle, so I included it in my research.
Of course, modern Halloween includes traditions from many cultures. Check out what my fellow authors found in their research.
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