[First posted in October 2010 on www.deepeningcommunity.ca]
The ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain was observed October 31 to November 1. It was seen as the dividing line between harvest season and winter, signaling the northern hemisphere’s movement into the “darker half” of the year.
Samhain festivals usually included a large bonfire in the town square. Typically, every family arrived with a hollowed-out pumpkin, or turnip, or gourd, which they used at the end of the festivities to carry a burning ember home to light their hearth fires. Through the cold, dark winter, they clung to the memory of the communal bonfire, which warmed both hearths and hearts. Some Halloween historians trace the origin of the jack-o-lantern to this tradition.
The Celts believed that during Samhain the veil between the living and the dead grew thin. Thus our Halloween obsession with ghosts and goblins, ghouls and graveyards. And our southern sisters’ and brothers’ celebration this weekend of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, when personal altars are built, prayed over, and laden with the favorite foods of departed loved ones. And the religious observances of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. This Sunday, like many other congregations, Circle of Mercy—the church I serve as co-pastor—will gather to name departed loved ones, tell their stories, and light candles in honor and remembrance.
If you encounter a jack-o-lantern this weekend, give thanks for the friends who ignite your spirit and warm your heart. And if your community includes departed saints, famous or familiar, light a candle of gratitude for these dear ones who have gone on ahead, who continue to shine light back on your path. May both your heart and your hearth stay warm this winter.