Halloween has it’s origins in the Pagan Celtic tradition of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-inn’ or ‘sow-een’). Despite what many people believe it was not about devil worship or evil. Samhain is actually quite a beautiful festival that connects us with those we love that have died and celebrates the harvest and end of summer. This year, I’m embracing some of these beautiful traditions as a way of fostering a positive approach to dealing with grief.
Samhain has been celebrated for centuries and marks the end of the harvest and the move into winter. The name Samhain literally means “Summer’s End”. During this time the focus was on clearing out the old and embracing the new. It was a time to reflect on the passage of time and our journey through life. It was a time to forgive and move on. And it was a time to visit with and honour loved ones (both living and dead).
Samhain – An Ancient Festival Honouring The Dead
Pagan Celtic tradition held that Samhain was believed to be the time of year when the veils between this world and the Otherworld were at their thinnest. When the spirits of those who have passed could be with the living once again. The ancient Celts believed, on October 31, the good spirits of the dead could come back to earth, often in the form of a black cat, to be reunited with loved ones.
Druids built huge bonfires during their Samhain festivities where they would share in a feast. After the festival they re-lit the fires in their homes from the sacred bonfire to help protect them, as well as keep them warm during the winter months.
For Pagans, death is not a thing to be feared. Old age is valued for its wisdom and dying is accepted as a part of life as necessary and welcome as birth. While Pagans, like people of other faiths, always honour and show respect for their dead, this is particularly marked at Samhain. Loved ones who have died are remembered and their spirits often invited to join the living in the celebratory feast. Known as The Feast of the Dead.
Over time the festival was adopted by Christians. They celebrated All Saints Day (also know as All Hallows… ‘all that is holy’) on November 1, therefore making October 31 All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween. Although they embraced it as a Christian holiday, it still retained elements of remembering and honouring the dead.
Using Samhain Traditions to Help Kids Navigate Grief
I’ve talked before about the impact loss and death has had on my children. Losing a loved one is hard at any age. We can’t shield our children from death. No matter how hard it is. Death is a natural part of our life’s journey and we must all learn how to navigate grief, how to honour the dead, and how to embrace the love of those who have left us.
Modern, North American style, Halloween celebrations usually mock the dead. Embracing a silly, goofy, morbid, scary, over the top approach to death. This is in direct contradiction to the traditional Samhain festivals that were about embracing, honouring and loving those we have lost.
I’m not planning on taking away any of the fun, goofy, or silliness that is such a part of Halloween traditions now. My kids love so much of that craziness and Halloween fun, but I think there is a lot of room to add another layer to the festivities. Especially when looking for ways to promote the adoption of new coping skills when learning how to cope with grief.
Our New Celtic Halloween Traditions
This year we are embracing the origins of Samhain and bringing some of those ancient traditions into our celebrations as a way to help my children learn new ways of coping with death. Death can be very traumatic, but as those still living we must learn how to navigate this part of our journey in a healthy way. For many this starts in childhood.
So this year I’m going to encourage my children to talk about those who have passed. We will create commemorative pieces that remind us of the love and joy we shared with the dead. Those precious pictures and keepsakes we’ve saved but so rarely look at or hold will come out. We will burn a candle that we have hand rolled ourselves. I will also let my children take the lead, I’m sure they will have other ways they want to remember and embrace the memories of those no longer with us. Perhaps we will even set a place for them at the dinner table.
Using Words and Crafts To Connect
One of my plans is to take this Charlotte’s Web inspired spider activity and change it up a bit. Instead of doing it as an “about me”, I’m going to encourage the kids to find descriptive words for they love and miss. We can then use the final products to decorate our school room. It will also work as a wonderful conversation starter.
Our new Celtic Halloween Samhain
Talking about those we have lost can be hard. Keeping the pain inside can be very damaging. By encouraging children to share their thoughts, emotions, memories and struggles with death, we can help them create healthy coping skills.
This Halloween we will bring back some of the beautiful Pagan Celtic traditions and spend some time with those who have passed but never truly leave us. Those that have blessed us with their love that we continue to carry in our hearts. We will spend time honouring and finding peace with the never ending circle of life.
Life is a journey. Sometimes the lessons we must learn are painful and hard. This Halloween we will focus on love to help navigate us through the pain of death.