Who doesn’t love a fresh start? If you’re ready for a New Year, you’re in luck, because the Pagan holiday of Samhain, (pronounced saah-win) which began last night and lasts through today, is the spiritual New Year in the Pagan and Celtic tradition.
This isn’t a holiday I learned about in my Jewish education, so I indulged my curiosity to learn more. Here is a little background on Samhain and a few practical rituals to mark the change in season.
Samhain is a celebration of the final harvest before winter. As vegetation dies back in the first frosts, death is literally in the air. It is said that the veils thin at Samhain. For some this means there is more connection to the realm of spirits and those who have passed, and for others it means having closer access to God.
In the wheel of the year, Samhain is one of the four great Sabbats along with Imbolc, Beltane, and Lammas. These festivals, as well as the Equinoxes and the Solstices, make up the 8 points of the year that mark the changing seasons. Samhain falls at the midway point between the Autumn Equinox (when the day light and night time are equal) and the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) in the Northern Hemisphere.
These are the four fire festivals, historically celebrated with big communal bonfires. In ancient times, celebrants brought sacrifices to be burned in the fire.
Like all Sabbaths, and in similar tradition to the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashana, Samhain is a time to pause, reflect, and take stock. It is a time of introspection.
A new year is a time of both death and rebirth. Honoring, grieving, and celebrating those who have died connects us with our own mortality, which helps us rejoice in our own lives and refocus on how we want to live.
Rather than seeing death as something to fear, this approach recognizes that death is a part of life. As the harvest is gathered, we prepare for the darkness of Winter knowing that the seasons will turn and life will begin again.
In this vein, Samhain also is an opportunity to look ahead and begin feeling into what we desire for the future. It brings more spaciousness to the process of planning for the next year. Instead of harsh starts and stops, we weave from one cycle into the next, recognizing the time is fluid and that life moves in cycles, not straight lines.
3 Samhain Rituals to Connect to the Season
Reflect on you and your life over the past year. Review journals, planners, photographs, blogs, and other notations you have created during the past year. Consider how you have grown, accomplishments, challenges, adventures, travels, and learnings. Meditate. Journal about your year in review, your meditation, and your reflections.
As you reflect on your life and where you’re headed, consider what is holding you back. To create space for what you truly desire, what must you release? What sacrifice are you being called to make as you move into the next phase of the year? Write down on a piece of paper what you are being called to release, and burn the paper in a fire. If you can’t make a safe fire, you can also dissolve the paper in salt-water, or bury it in the earth to compost it.
A popular Samhain ritual is to eat a celebratory holiday feast, cooking the favorite foods of those who have passed who you wish to remember, and setting a space for them at the table. One woman I know makes this feast a “silent supper.” After dinner, she and her living guests write letters to their departed loved ones. Then they burn the letters in a fire pit and share stories about their loved ones.