Samhain for the Family
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, and the last harvest 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 trick or treat. Still, like many modern celebrations, it has a more profound pagan significance.
From a Nordic perspective, Samhain has origins in Wicca and Celtic paganism and has since been incorporated into New Age Norse paganism.
Samhain is not a pre-Christian, Heathen day. The Nordic peoples did not traditionally celebrate it. They did, however, have Vetrnætr (Winter Nights) on the full moon of October. Samhain and Vetrnætr do have common traditions: They both honour ancestors with their favourite foods and drinks.
Note: Álfblót was commonly believed to take place the following full moon in November, but a recent scholar suggests Álfblót may have been in the same full moon as Vetrnætr. Maybe the Swedes had a different name for the same tradition?
Samhain and Vetrnætr 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 honour them, especially those who passed on in the last year.
In ancient Heathen times, it was celebrated with a feast and drinks. Another similar event called Álfblót doesn't have much information on it was observed, 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 honour our ancestors for Samhain, Vetrnætr and/or Álfblót? Below are some ideas for large or intimate celebrations:
1. Feast with friends and family
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 by your ancestor's spirits and why they are honoured. Feel free to talk about your departed family members, friends or animals. All are closest to you at this time.
2. Light a candle with 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 losing a pet. Feel free to encourage the tradition by displaying a picture of their departed companion and asking them to talk openly to them. They are listening tonight.
Remember to do the same with your departed loved ones. Your child(ren) will feel a deeper connection to them.
3. Give a toast to your ancestors and/or to the gods
Skal! - 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: the 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 grateful 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 an excellent opportunity to have them reflect on that hard work. Make sure you connect the similarities between the hard work needed to collect the harvest and the hard work required 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 honour your origins.
This is not limited to your blood family. It can also be people you consider family (adopted family, friends, neighbours - your kindrid).
Whether youre celebrating Samhain or Àlfblót, I wish you a very speacial occasion and a happy Halloween!