Allhallowtide, Samhain, Dia de los Muertos & Halloween: A spook-tacular weekend

Three lit jack-o-lanterns with faces

Photo by William Warby, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31 and SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2—From Samhain to Mexico’s Day of the Dead to Halloween, world cultures celebrate the belief that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin—and ancestors are held close. Don’t worry, it’s not all solemn and bone-chilling, though—today’s secular Halloween also brings out bright Jack-o-lanterns, loads of candy and a pretty good excuse for adults to join in on the fun with kids. So grab your best ghoulish mask and get the (Halloween) party started!

THE COVID-19 HALLOWEEN FORECAST

Like most publicly celebrated holidays in 2020, the pandemic has dramatically changed the way Halloween will be celebrated this year. Here are a few headlines:

BUSINESSES ARE SHIVERING THIS YEAR! On October 1, MarketWatch carried one of many business reports predicting a downturn on the commercial side of the holiday under a headline: Halloween sales forecast could be frightful Tony Garcia reported, in part: “More than half, 52%, of consumers say they will buy less candy this year. And 73% expect to celebrate Halloween differently.”

BUT, WHO KNOWS? 148 MILLION STILL WILL CELEBRATE. On October 14, Kimberly Amadeo reported in The Balance that the magnitude of 2020 celebrations is changing dramatically—so retail sales may not tell the whole story. Millions still are planning to celebrate and some may wind up with even more elaborate plans, as a result.

A SWEET REPORT FROM CONFECTIONERS. Of course, the National Confectioners Association has a vested interest in a sweet forecast and, in September, did report via PR Newswire that chocolate and candy sales appeared to be rising.

DAWN OF ‘THE CANDY CHUTE’ Americans are known for their innovations! Reports nationwide are describing various models of “candy chutes” so homeowners can still deliver candy to kids from a safe distance either up on a porch—or even from an upstairs window! We’ve heard of these chutes made from common pieces of rain gutters—like the one that members of Clarkston United Methodist Church in Michigan built so they could continue to offer free holiday treats to their town’s children this year. Here’s a Detroit News story about a chute made from PVC pipe. Here’s an NPR story that mentions chutes made from cardboard tubes.

Maybe Halloween 2020 will be remembered for years as the dawn of the “candy chute”!

HAVE YOU SEEN A CANDY CHUTE?

HALLOWEEN: A CHRISTIAN ORIGIN; A CULTURAL PHENOMENON

Allhallowtide, the triduum of Halloween, recalls deceased spirits, saints (hallows) and martyrs alike, in one collective commemoration. The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and many Christians visit graveyards during this time to pray and place flowers and candles at the graves of their deceased loved ones. The two days following All Hallows Eve—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day—pay homage to the souls that Christians believe are now with God. In medieval England, Christians went “souling” on Halloween, begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers in local churches.

Halloween’s secular side has emerged during the past century, and today, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses, watching horror movies and dressing up like favored characters has become custom in Western culture. Recent estimates are that the very diverse American business of “haunted attractions” brings in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and the commercial elements of Halloween have spread from North America to Europe, South America, Australia, Japan and parts of East Asia.

SAMHAIN: GUISING FOR A TRICK

pumpkin candles darkness

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

The original Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and ushered in winter, or the “darker half” of the year, in Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. During this time of year, bonfires were lit for the purpose of divination and as a protective and cleansing measure. Legend has it that spirits could easily come to earth, and many people would leave out food and drink for the roaming entities.

In many households, ancestors were welcomed to the table with particular enthusiasm, and large meals were prepared. Multiple sites in Ireland were, and still are, associated with Samhain, and the spirits that emerge there at this time of year. Guising—donning a costume—was thought to “trick” ill-intentioned spirits roaming the streets near Samhain, and hallowed-out turnips were lit with a candle and placed in windows, their monstrous carved faces frightening bad spirits.

Today’s Samhain emerged as part of the late 19th century Celtic Revival, and Neopagans, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans and Wiccans all celebrate the holiday, in slightly varying ways. Most keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors, welcoming the “darker” season and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.

MUERTOS: DAY OF THE DEAD

Vibrant decorations for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, mark towns in Mexico and Latin American communities far and wide, as the lives of the departed are celebrated with vigor. The full festival of Dia de los Muertos typically lasts two or three days (in some regions, customs begin on October 31), and traditionally, November 1 pays tribute to the souls of children and the innocent while November 2 is dedicated to deceased adult souls. In Mexico, relatives adorn altars and graves with elaborate garlands and wreaths, crosses made of flowers and special foods. Families gather in cemeteries, where pastors bestow prayers upon the dead. For children, Dia de los Muertos celebrations mean candy like sugar skulls and once-a-year treats; music and dancing delight celebrants of all ages.

ALL THINGS HALLOWEEN:
DIY COSTUMES, DÉCOR, PARTIES & MORE

What’s Halloween without some good costumes and tasty treats?

Equinox / Ostara / International Day of Nowruz: Welcome, spring!

Spring in nature, equinox

Photo courtesy of Needpix

FRIDAY, MARCH 20 and SATURDAY, MARCH 21: Across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children are saying: Welcome, spring! Marked by the vernal equinox, this ancient phenomenon fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz.
  • The United Nations proclaimed International Nowruz Day.
  • For Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals differ, the theme throughout all of the above holidays is joy in the promises of new life; a specific joy that comes with the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans reflecting on the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

VERNAL EQUINOX: SPRING IN THE NORTH

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal equinox signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

Nowruz decorations on Kish Island, Iran. Photo by Saleh Dinparvar, courtesy of Flickr

NOWRUZ: IRANIANS, ZOROASTRIANS AND A UNESCO MASTERPIECE

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness.

Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year, many families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

BAHA’I NEW YEAR: NAW-RUZ

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and that fast is broken for Naw-Ruz: the Baha’i New Year. One of nine holy days of the month, Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy.

eggs for spring

Eggs are a common symbol of spring. Photo by John Loo, courtesy of Flickr

No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, and most Baha’is gather for a community meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz.

OSTARA: SPRING, DAWN AND EGGS

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

 

Equinox, Mabon: Welcome autumn, harvest and the season of gratitude

Autumn foliage

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23: Take a deep breath of crisp, autumn air and savor the warm spices of the season, as Pagans celebrate Mabon and people around the Northern Hemisphere mark the autumnal equinox. For Pagans and Wiccans, Mabon is a type of Thanksgiving, recognizing the gifts of harvest; it is a time to seek blessings for the approaching winter months. Equinox, a celestial event, occurs twice per year and is so named because the length of day and night are (almost exactly) equal.

Did you know? The equinox phenomenon can occur on any planet with a significant tilt to its rotational axis, such as Saturn.

MABON: FROM CIDERS AND BREADS TO PINE CONES AND GOURDS

“Everything autumn” sums up the fare, symbols and activities of Mabon, as Pagans and Wiccans offer cider, wines and warming herbs and spices to gods and goddesses. Druids call this time Mea’n Fo’mhair, honoring the God of the Forest; Wiccans celebrate the Second Harvest Festival with altars, decorating them with pine cones, gourds, corn, apples and other autumn elements.

A time of mysteries, Wiccans recognize the aging of the goddess and visit ancestors’ graves, decorating them with leaves, acorns and other elements of fall. Tables are covered in feasts of breads, root vegetables and apple cider, as scents of cinnamon and nutmeg fill the air. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Families gather, and preparations are made for the coming winter months.

Looking for an autumn activity? Take a walk through the woods, while enjoying the bold colors of autumn; alternatively, make a horn of plenty that will grace the home through the season. Kids can create corn husk dolls (courtesy of Martha Stewart), and homes can smell like fall with the addition of scented pine cones (get a DIY here, from HGTV).

You say Lammas, I say Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans embrace harvest

Three rolls with wheat strands on wood board on wood table

Photo courtesy of pxhere

THURSDAY, AUGUST 1: As August begins and grains turn golden in the fields, Christians, Pagans and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland mark centuries-old harvest festivals. The customs once were so well known that Shakespeare could use a reference to Lammas as a symbolic date in his tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Juliet’s birthday was Lammas Eve.

Today, families with cultural roots in the UK may mark either Lammas or Lughnasadh. Pagan groups maintain various customs related to these traditions, regarding this point in the year as a “feast of first fruits.”

Historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to the church for a blessing on August 1, or Lammas Day.

It is gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s observance. Lughnasadh customs were more commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. Throughout Ireland’s history, significant mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh; the custom was brought into Christianity when Christian pilgrimages were undertaken near August 1. The most well-known pilgrimage of this type is Reek Sunday, a trek to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July that continues to draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

Family reunions are still common among the Irish diaspora near August 1, and in Ireland, several towns have recently created Lughnasadh festivals and fairs to parallel Puck Fair.

For Christians, Lammas has been a time for blessing loaves made of fresh wheat. In time, Christians also created a version of the Scottish Highland Quarter Cake for Lammas, which bore Christian symbols on the top. (Catholic Culture has a recipe.)

In the Neopagan and Wiccan faiths, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbaths and is the first of three harvest festivals. Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnasadh is named. Ever mirthful, Lugh is honored alongside his foster mother, Tailtiu, who is said to be responsible for introducing agriculture to Ireland. The story of Lughnasadh is one of the cycle of life, of the harvesting of grains and crops, and of one season’s fruits dropping seeds for the next. Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries.

Interested in making a Lammas loaf? Try this recipe, from Recipes for a Pagan Soul:

4 cups all purpose/bread flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Stir flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and raisins together. Separately, fork-blend eggs and buttermilk, then add to dry ingredients. Stir until sticky batter is formed. Scrape batter onto a well-floured surface and knead lightly. Shape batter into a ball, then place in a round, non-stick casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake uncovered in preheated 350-degree oven for about 1-1/4 hours.

Wait 10-15 minutes before attempting to remove bread from casserole, then cool on wire rack. If desired, cut loaf into quarters and then slice thinly.

Midsummer, solstice and Litha: Welcome, summer!

Dancing outdoors

Midsummer dancing. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

FRIDAY, JUNE 21: Bonfires, picnics on the beach, wreaths of wildflowers and Midsummer parties—Scandinavian-style—abound today, at the summer solstice. Across the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the “longest day of the year,” meaning that for astrological reasons, inhabitants of the north experience more hours and minutes of daylight than on any other day of the year.

For people around the world, Midsummer has been equated with sun gods, greenery, fertility rituals and medicinal herbs for millennia. In Scandinavian countries, the longest day is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. A Scandinavian Midsummer is complete with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old: extravagant smorgasbord lunches, outdoor games for the entire community, dancing and more.

Flower crowns are all the rage, and this ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. For a tutorial on how to create a chic one, check out Lauren Conrad.com.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries often take center stage in cakes, shortcakes or eaten straight out of the bowl. Other traditional foods include the season’s first potatoes, made with dill and butter; a roast; herring or other types of fish and seafood; hard-boiled eggs and summer cabbage. For recipes, visit Bon Appetit.

CELEBRATE WITH SHAKESPEARE

Each summer, theatrical companies around the world perform Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s DreamA global check of theater listings turns up performances in California, the Midwest and England—and others in communities sprinkled around the world. Check local listings in your region.

Amazon Prime members can choose from at least four free-to-stream versions of the classic, anytime this week.

MIDSUMMER AROUND THE WORLD

In Finland, the summer holiday unofficially starts with Midsummer, and so many flock to countryside cottages that city streets can seem eerily empty. Saunas, bonfires, barbecues and fishing are enjoyed by hundreds.

Two northeastern towns in Brazil have been in lengthy competition for the title of “Biggest Saint John Festival in the World,” and throughout the South American country, dishes made with corn and sweet potatoes are favored.

In Austria, a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River, while fireworks light up the night sky above castle ruins. In Latvia, homes, livestock and even cars are decorated with leaves, tree branches, flowers and other greenery.

The largest American celebrations of Midsummer take place in New York City, Seattle, Tucson and San Francisco. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, members of the large Finnish population celebrate Juhannus with beachfront bonfires and other outdoor activities.

LITHA: A WICCAN AND PAGAN SOLSTICE CELEBRATION

Many Wiccans and Pagans observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life. At Litha, adherents note the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. Traditionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are the main course at shared meals, and bonfires are lit to pay homage to the full strength of the sun. In centuries past, torchlight processions were common; at Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle.

NOTE THE WIDE RANGE OF DATES—If you’re interested in looking for regional Litha observances in your part of the world, search local news and websites early—and plan ahead, because dates may vary. Some groups in 2019 are choosing to hold their festivals on Saturday to accommodate work schedules. However, in other parts of the world, Litha events may come as early as June 20 or as late as June 24 with celebrations in central and northern Europe closer to the 24th.

Gathering Herbs

Though harvest is not in full swing yet, many wild herbs are mature for picking and, thus, Midsummer is known as “Gathering Day” in Wales and in other various regions. Herbs, gathered most often for medicinal qualities, are gathered and dried for later use.

Interested in a modern-day take on gathering and drying healing herbs? Check out this story by Antioch College student Aubrey Hodapp, whose studies under an herbalist have helped her to deliver local, organic tea to her fellow students and much more (featured this week at FeedTheSpirit).

Beltane, Samhain: Wiccans and Pagans mark May Day festival

Fire with dancers in middle of crowd, nighttime

The Beltane Fire Festival at Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Martin Robertson, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, MAY 1: Enjoy the beauty of spring and summer today! May 1 is the Pagan and Wiccan festival of Beltane, a joyous festival that celebrates the renewal and bounty of nature. Beltane (or Samhain, in the southern hemisphere) falls on a date approximately halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

Original Beltane festivals date back thousands of years to ancient Ireland and Scotland, and today, a revival of these ancient rites is bringing Celtic people back to their roots. Dancing around a Maypole might not be a feasible activity for most people today, but everyone can rejoice in spring by taking a nature walk, placing fresh flowers around the home or eating traditional foods like oats and dairy.

Ancient Beltane rituals often revolved around fertility; as time progressed, enormous community bonfires on Beltane Eve signified purity and the coming warmth and light of summer months. Early season herbs, such as juniper, were often thrown onto fires to add blessing to the smoke, and pagans would often run between two fires for luck. Wiccans of today mark Beltane as one of eight sabbats, or holidays.

The greatest Beltane Eve festival today is the Edinburgh Beltane Fire Festival, an extravagant event on Calton Hill in Scotland that attracts approximately 15,000 people annually. (Beltane.org is the official site.) The Beltane Fire Festival began during the night of April 30 in 1988, and has since provided spectators with a wide array of performances, hypnotic drum beats and more, by firelight.

Candlemas, Groundhog Day and Imbolc: Early February holidays anticipate spring

Groundhog standing on its hind legs on dirt with light and lights in background

Will the groundhog see his shadow? Photo by Cornelia Kopp, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2: No matter which holiday you’re celebrating—Candlemas, Groundhog Day or Imbolc—do so with the unifying themes for this time in February: renewal and hope. The first days of February bring new beginnings, as the Gaelic festival of Imbolc marks the start of spring while Groundhog Day begins with hope for an early spring season. For Christians, Candlemas brings the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and an early recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.

NEWS 2019: The “official” groundhog of Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil, now has some furry competition: Buffalo Bert, a groundhog in Buffalo, New York, is now the center of that city’s celebrations, which take place on the last Saturday of January instead of on February 2. (Read a news report here.) Approximately 800 attendees came out for the 2019 party in Buffalo, whose star was the rescued groundhog called Buffalo Bert.

(His prediction this year? Six more weeks of winter.)

CANDLEMAS: A TEMPLE, COINS AND BELLS

The feast of Candlemas focuses on the Gospel of Luke, which describes Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. According to the gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met a man named Simeon while at the Temple, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and as the fulfillment of a prophesy. A woman at the Temple, Anna, offered similar praise for Jesus. However, Simeon warned that Mary’s heart would someday be “pierced with a sword,” as the future held tragic events for her young son.

 

The Feast of the Presentation ranks as one of the oldest feasts in the church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. Aside from the blessing of candles—and the widespread and abundant use of candles, too—Candlemas brings an array of delicious foods and vibrant customs! In countries across Europe, sweet and savory crepes are made; in Mexico, piles of tamales are served, often at a party thrown by the person who found the baby Jesus trinket in an Epiphany King Cake. French tradition has it that successfully flipping a coin while making pancakes will surely bring good luck, and Candlemas Bells—early-blooming white flowers, also known as Snowdrops—are believed to purify any home they are brought into today. (Just don’t bring those Snowdrops inside before the feast of Candlemas, because that’s considered bad luck!)

IMBOLC: SPRING AND WOODLAND ANIMALS (& BRIGHID)

Close-up of square-shaped woven item of thin, straw-type material

Close-up of the center of a St. Brighid’s cross. Photo by Amanda Slater, courtesy of Flickr

On February 1, Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere usher in February with the centuries-old Gaelic festival of Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, marking the beginning of spring and the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is celebrated.) Corn dollies, fashioned like Brighid, are made by young Pagans, while adults twist Brighid crosses. (Get a step-by-step, DIY version of Brighid crosses here.) After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

Did you know? The Irish Imbolc translates from the Old Irish imbolg, or “in the belly”—a tribute to the early spring pregnancies of ewes. As lactation begins, an array of dairy foods eaten on this day symbolizes new beginnings.

Legend has it that on Imbolc, Brighid begins preparing for the renewal of spring. Snakes and badgers begin emerging from the earth to “test the weather” (thus, the beginning of modern Groundhog Day traditions.) In Wicca, Imbolc is a women’s festival, in honor of Brighid.

GROUNDHOG DAY: SEASONAL PREDICTIONS AND GOOD OL’ PHIL

On February 2, many of us ask: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

What started as an ancient pagan festival’s legends on woodland animals “testing the weather” has slowly morphed into a national phenomenon in the United States. Groundhog Day, spurred by German immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries who brought groundhog traditions with them to America, gave birth to “Punxsutawney Phil” and the array of groundhog-related events that fill lodges and streets in Pennsylvania in the first days of February each year. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day, where “Phil” is regarded as the “one and only” weather predictor for the day.

Getting it straight: Tradition tells that if a groundhog sees his shadow in sunlight, he will retreat back to his burrow, indicating six more weeks of winter; if he sees no shadow, he will emerge, and an early spring is in the forecast.