It’s Halloween and between the ghosts and goblins, witches on broomsticks, pumpkins and spiderwebs…it’s a festive time of dressing up and enjoying sweet treats.
But as we celebrate the holiday, what is the deeper meaning of Halloween?
In Northern Europe, Samhain (the Celtic name for Halloween) was the time when the cattle were moved from large summer pastures to their winter shelters. It was the end of harvest and growing season, a time of gratitude when it was believed that the ancestors and the spirits of one’s beloved deceased would return home to share in the feast. Death did not mean an end of a relationship back then.
People would leave offerings of food and drink for their loved ones at doorsteps, and set out candles to light their way home.
In modern day, the ways we put out jack-o-lanterns during Halloween and giving sweet offerings to kids, (who are believed to be ancestors returning in new life), we carry on these Samhain rituals of honoring the dead.
It sheds new light on what death and regeneration mean to us. These are cycles renewed and viewed as a natural system and stage of life, perhaps even a gateway to a new being.
We can honor those who lived, remember them after their passing and celebrate their lives. We can appreciate their stories and gifts as we share memories. In Latin cultures, Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, on November 2, is a time to visit the graves of loved ones and to honor them with alters and prayers.
In ancient Chinese culture, Ghost Day (and the seventh month of their lunar calendar in general is regarded as the Ghost Month) is when ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from what they believe is the lower realm.
Families honor and pray to their ancestors and also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls do not intrude on their lives and bring misfortune. A large feast is held for the ghosts, when people bring samples of food and place them on an offering table to please them. Lotus-shaped lanterns are lit and set afloat in rivers and out onto seas to symbolically guide the lost souls of forgotten ancestors to the afterlife.
It is warming to think of this honoring of links to one’s past.
So on Halloween, as you celebrate the ghosts, goblins and skulls this year, remember the ancient meaning behind it all... that death is no barrier to love.