Samhain for the Family
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
Samhain | Winternights (Vetrnætr) | Dísablót
Samhain is the last harvest day of the year and the beginning of winter. It is the halfway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It is considered a minor celebration (disablot) and the last celebration on the Wheel of the Year.
Most people will celebrate October 31 as Halloween, a commercial form of Samhain where children dress in costumes and go trick or treating, but like most modern celebrations it has a deeper pagan significance.
It is important to note that Samhain is not Heathen. It is not traditionally celebrated by the Norse peoples. The Norse did have Winternights that fell around the same time (mid-October). Winternights and Samhain do have common traditions: They both honor ancestors with their favourite foods and drinks.
Samhain and Winternights is a time of remembrance. It is the time of year your departed ancestors are closest to you, so we take the opportunity to respect and honor them; especially those who passed on in the last year.
We do not really know how it was celebrated by our ancestors; just that it was considered a 'hallowed night' and strangers were not welcome into people's homes during this private event (Ynglinga saga by Snorri Sturluson).
So how can families celebrate and honor our ancestors for Samhain and Winternights? Below are some ideas for large or intimate celebrations:
1. Feast with friends and family
Make sure you set an extra plate at your table for your ancestors to welcome their spirit to the table and serve as a remembrance to help keep their memory alive. Share stories of the food brought, your ancestors spirit and why they are honored. Feel free to talk of your departed family members, friends or animals. All are closest to you at this time.
2. Light a candle by a picture representing your departed loved ones.
Most children may not have any memory of a lost ancestor. It is more likely they have feelings toward lost a pet. Feel free to encourage the tradition by displaying a picture of their departed companion and ask them to talk openly to them. They are listening tonight.
Remember to do the same with your departed loved ones. Your child(ren) will end up feeling a deeper connection to them.
3. Give a toast to your ancestors and/or to the gods
Skal! (or Prost! in German) - Make a toast for your ancestor or deity by sacrificing a sip of your drink to the air, and then take a sip yourself (this is probably best done outside).
In Norse Mythology Freyr is most likely to be worshipped at this time. He is the god of harvest, health and abundance. He lives in Álfheimr: realm of the elves. It is the elves who deliver your messages to the dead.
4. Be thankful for the spoils of the harvest
Samhain is the last harvest celebration of the year. Where parents are thankful for the harvest, your kids are likely to be thankful for their candy. It may not be a big deal to you, but your kids put a lot of hard work into collecting candy through an evening of trick-or-treating, this is a good opportunity to have them reflect on that hard work.
Make sure you connect the similarities between the hard work needed to collect harvest, and the hard work needed to collect candy.
5. Have a fire and/or share stories of your ancestry
Even if you don't gather with others, it is still a great night to open your genealogy charts and enjoy the stories of the ancestors that got you where you are today. Learning or encouraging the history of your lineage is a fun way to honor your origins.
Sincerely, Jennifer Hartman
Author, Old Mother Frost pagankids.org