Samhain, also known as Halloween or All Hallow's Eve, is one of our society's most controversial and least understood holy days. Unfortunately, I know this all too well from personal experience.
Last evening as my family participated in a Halloween party at a local restaurant, a young girl (maybe six years old) informed my two daughters in the midst of play that she didn't don a costume because she was a Christian and Christians, according to her, do not celebrate Halloween. My daughters, having been deeply exposed to a variety of faiths and holy days during my Project Conversion experience in 2011, came away disturbed and confused.
"We [meaning her, her sister, and my wife] are Christians, Mommy," my oldest daughter said in the car, "does that mean we shouldn't celebrate Halloween?"
It was an honest and important question, yet loaded with delicate nuance. Had I been the Christian I was in high school, my family would avoid any Halloween celebration outright, and so the little girl's aversion (something I'm sure she did not come up with independently) left me with the familiar and bitter taste of my past.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with this child's avoidance of a holy day that seemingly contradicts her own religious proclivities. We all have the right to express our spiritual disposition (or lack thereof) freely. What bothers me is that the aversion, fear, and judgments we harbor toward others are often grounded in ignorance.
Thanks to my experience in October of 2011, Samhain is now one of my favorite holy days. According to Michele Morgan, author of Simple Wicca, Samhain is:
"...the third harvest festival of the year, a time to honor our departed loved ones and the night when, in legend, the spirits of the dead return to commune with the living. The God has died, returning to the Underworld to await his rebirth at Yule; the Goddess is the Crone, mourning her lost love, leaving the world for a time in darkness."
Samhain, like the other Sabbats which celebrate and consecrate our seasonal voyage, is the poetry of ceremony shared between humanity, the earth, and the divine. As residents of this moment, of this point in time and space, we exist as the progeny of ancestors with hopes and dreams of a better, brighter tomorrow. As the last harvest festival of the year, Samhain is a celebration in the midst of the approaching night. We light fires and feast because, even as the year's darkest days envelope our lives, we anticipate the coming light, the glorious return of the sun at Yule.
This is the beauty of Samhain. In celebrating our ancestors, we remember their trials and triumphs; we remember their anticipation of the coming light. In these turbulent modern times, it certainly feels as though we are on the precipice of our darkest days. Constant war, a nation divided, virulent intolerance and apathy, all of which has metastasized within our great body of humanity and threatens our collective soul.
And yet Samhain reminds us that we are not alone. Our ancestors also faced the darkness, and when we invite them back into our lives during this holy night, we glean their lessons, we bond with that greater orb of human experience. More importantly, we understand that they could not reach the edge of the darkness without unity.
The generations of the last century performed great works, plowing the field of humanity. Our ancestors planted wondrous seeds of compassion, toleration, equality, and justice into the soil upon which we now stand. Samhain reminds us of the urgency of our time. It is now our sacred duty to take up the sickle and the basket, together, and harvest the manifestation of hope, sewn with sweat, blood, and tears planted by our forebears.
Photo by exquisitur, via Flickr Creative Commons.