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Happy Samhain

October 23, 2007|By DYLAN THACKSTON / Pulse Correspondent

Halloween is a wonderful night full of spooky joy and wonder, but most of us think of it as just a night to go to parties, or go trick-or-treating, or take younger sibs out for candy collecting.

But Halloween comes in many other names, such as All Hallows Eve, Snap Apple Night and Allhallowmas. Halloween is one of many harvest holidays celebrated worldwide.

The original Oct. 31 holiday was called Samhain - pronounced "SOW-when" - and was acknowledged by ancient Celts, both Christian and pagan. According to Pauline Campanelli in "The Wheel of the Year," it happened around the time of year of the killing frost, the first frost of the season. Farmers knew it was time to butcher livestock that wouldn't make it through winter. Most of the meat would be salted and kept for the winter, but the some would be eaten fresh. So, whenever there was a slaughter, it meant a feast.

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For the ancient Celtic tribes, Samhain was a harvest festival, a goodbye to the summer growing season and a welcoming of winter's cold.

Another part of Samhain, one that has been passed down to modern pagans, was the remembrance of ancestors. The Celts lit candles for

beloved ancestors - though families with ancestors not so beloved would leave the house dark so less-well-loved spirits would pass without seeing them.

Another key element to Samhain was that it marked the end of the year. For many ancient peoples, the beginning of the year started Nov. 1, while others celebrated the beginning of the new year around the time of the winter solstice.

The time between Samhain and the winter solstice for these people, was a sort of "no time," a kind of time out. It is from this concept that we get our New Year's resolutions, for they would take this month and a half to contemplate what they accomplished in the past year, and what their goal for the next year will be. As for pagans today, and the newer nature religion, Wicca, Samhain is mostly an ancestral holiday.

Modern practitioners remember and celebrate family members who have passed on. Some people believe veils between the living and the dead are thin on Samhain, so they practice divination, which is the ritualistic manner of contacting people who have died. Many keep candles or pictures out for loved ones as a token of remembrance.

So when you celebrate Halloween with pumpkins and costumes and candy, remember where the holiday comes from.

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