Tuesday, October 30, 2012


I have been away from Blogland for a month, involved in a massive genealogy project. But you don't imagine I would forget to write a Halloween post, do you? Halloween has always been my second favorite holiday, after Christmas.

I've written all sorts of Halloween posts. My topics have included a post on Halloween's origins in the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced SOW-en). It was the most important night of the year for the Celts. It was their New Year's Eve, a time when the veil between the worlds grew thin and spirits could pass over and walked among us.

I've written posts about the ancient Irish and Scottish superstitions, customs and traditions that were brought over to the New World and became the basis for modern American Halloween. For example, in Ireland, turnips were hollowed out and candles were inserted inside, becoming the first jack o' lanterns.  Imagine the colonists' surprise when they saw pumpkins and guessed what a terrific glow could shine from them!

The ancient Celts also lit huge bonfires on Samhain to drive away the dark and evil spirits, and they paraded their cattle and other livestock between bonfires to purify them.

"The Pyres of Samhain", copyright D. E. Christman

I've written about how the ancient Christian church borrowed (or stole, depending on how you look at it) Celtic Samhain from the Druids, turning it into All Hallow's Eve, the precursor to All Soul's Day. (The poster below has it wrong, LOL!)

And of course, I've written about black cats and solitary women on the fringes of society maligned as witches.

I've written posts about the way people celebrated Samhain or Halloween in the past. Ancient or not-too-far-in-the-past, they always included feasting and "parlor games", including bobbing for apples, below:

"Halloween Snap Apple Night," artist unkown

To me, Halloween has never, ever, ever (to quote Taylor Swift) been about monsters, vampires, skeletons, Dracula, Frankenstein, zombies or werewolves. When I was a child, it was all about that eerie, mysterious and yes, scary black prairie night (see illustration below), so I wrote a post about trick or treating in the 1950s in my hometown, the village of Larson, ND.

I love vintage Halloween (from the turn of the century to about 1935) and especially the glorious postcards that were produced during that era.

As the years have progressed, Halloween to me is no longer about decorating my house and yard, handing out candy or kids - and adults - dressing in costumes. As I've gotten older, I've "taken back the night" and celebrated Halloween/Samhain as Ancestor Night (I wrote a post about that too.)

The Celts truly believed that their ancestors came back to visit them on Samhain Eve, so they set a chair and a place at the table for them, and opened doors and windows to welcome them in. This year, I found a wonderful poem about remembering ancestors at Halloween:

I miss you most upon each Samhain
When the boundary turns to sheer
I wait until the veil is parted
At the ending of the year.
Sweet spirit, as you walk among us
At the tolling of this eve
I see your face beyond the sunset
And hear your voice upon the breeze.

In the glowing of the candle,
From the shadow on the wall
I watch for you in every movement
And hear your footsteps in the hall.
Can you sit and spend the evening
As the portal opens wide?
Ancestral dead, I bid you welcome,
Most recent dead, I pray, abide.

When you come I sense your presence
I put my hand out in the air
A moment, then, we stand united
Palm to palm while waiting there.
I miss you most upon each Samhain
When the boundary turns to sheer
We share these hours until the dawning
Then bid farewell until next year.

David O. Norris
The past few Halloweens I've gone out into my backyard with a lit candle and just talked to my dearly departed loved ones and some ancestors I knew about but never met. This year, thanks to my Ancestry.com search, I know about hundreds and hundreds more, and have a deeper, stronger Celtic connection than I ever dreamed of.

Tomorrow night I can go backward in time and Eastward in space and say hello to ancestors like these: Marshal Duncan Sparks, born in 1811 in Spencer County, Kentucky and died in 1839 in Vigo County, Indiana. To William Aylett, born in 1703 in Westmoreland, Virginia and died there in 1744. To Thomas Perrine Applegate, born in 1600 in England and died in 1662 in Middlesex, NJ. To Joan Mason, 1552-1624, born and died in Derbyshire, England.

No matter how you celebrate Halloween/Samhain this year, I echo the sentiments of the illustration below:



Kath said...

Samhain blessings to you and your family Julie x

Rose H (UK) said...

Wishing you a wonderful Samhain day.

Leanne said...

Hi julie, sending you blessings on this special day

leanne x

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

You always get so much into a blog post - thank you - I enjoyed every bit of it. Blessings to you and yours.

This is my 23rd attempt at the captcha - after this I will give up.