Have you ever wondered why people dress up like sexy nurses or bloodied murderers at the end of October? I mean, I know it’s because of Halloween, but have you ever wondered why we get all spooky, deceptive, and beggarly on that holiday? Because when you think about it without any context, it seems a little weird.
Don’t get me wrong, although I could do without getting kids jacked up on sugar and turning every possible costume into something sexy (a sexy Mrs. Potato Head, Really?!), I enjoy Halloween. How could I not like unabashedly eating Reese’s cups while dressed like a witch and watching scary movies? That shit’s fun.
But if I’m going to be completely honest, I’m far more appreciative of the deeper, more meaningful traditions of this time of year. So, what are the traditions and where did they come from?
Samhain (pronounced “saa-win” or “sow-win,” meaning “summer’s end”) is a pagan festival with Celtic roots. It’s celebrated mid-way between the autumn equinox and winter solstice on the night of October 31. Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark half of the year. It’s believed that the separation between the material and spiritual worlds grows thin at this time, allowing otherworldly beings to enter the land of the living. Nature spirits, fairies, and pagan gods were thought to be appeased with offerings of food and drink. It was believed that such offerings would secure the protection of livestock during the winter. The souls of the dead were also believed to roam free during this time, and people would welcome loved ones back into their homes. People would disguise themselves with costumes to hide from the many spirits in their midst, either as protection or playful pranking.
As Christianity spread across Europe, pagan beliefs were woven into the religious practices. Allhallowtide grew out of the pagan practice of Samhain. It lasts three days and includes All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. Allhallowtide perpetuated the belief that the veil between life and death, or heaven, hell and purgatory was thin at this time of year. It became an opportunity to honor martyrs, saints, and all faithful Christians who have passed away. On All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), vigils and feasts were held in honor of the dead. In Medieval England, people would go door to door begging for “soul cakes” (cookies, basically, see recipe below) in exchange for prayers. Traditionally, this is a time to thank those who died for your benefit and to pray for good guidance and the protection from evil or sin.
Dia de Muertos (also known as Dia de los Muertos) or “Day of the Dead” is a Mexican holiday that honors deceased loved ones. It originally took place during the summer, but came to coincide with Allhallowtide after colonization. It is now celebrated October 31-November 2. Dia de Muertos is not a grim or sad tradition, but rather a joyous celebration. It’s believed that those who have died are present during the festivities. Loved ones are honored with altars called “ofrendas,” which traditionally include marigolds, food, or personal items belonging to the deceased.
I tend to draw from various traditions to create my own celebrations and rituals. This customized spiritual practice brings great meaning to my life and helps me connect with deeper roots. For the last several years, I’ve honored deceased loved ones at this time of year. It helps me feel close to those who are no longer with me and it has been a beautiful way to acquaint my children with friends and family members whom they never had a chance to meet.
Some suggestions for honoring this time include:
Make a bonfire outside or in your fireplace. Light candles around your home.
Tend to your land. Remove rotting plants, clear brush, prune perennials, nourish soil.
Enjoy an autumn feast. Prepare seasonal foods and share it with family and friends.
Decorate your home with seasonal items, such as pumpkins, gourds, mums or leaves.
Dress in costume (sexy or scary optional).
Take hike or nature walk, day or night.
Bake and share soul cakes.
Create an altar dedicated to loved ones who have passed away. Include photographs, flowers, personal items, or anything else that seems appropriate.
Visit a cemetery. Place offerings at the graves of loved ones.
Wear something that belonged to a deceased loved one or eat food they enjoyed.
Listen to music, read books, or watch movies they liked.
Use visualization to connect with ancestors. Sit quietly and call in spirit guides to offer support. Feel their presence with you.
Write letters to loved ones who have passed on or read things they wrote.
Create art (visual, written, performance) inspired by loved ones who have passed.
By all means go trick or treating, carve pumpkins, watch scary movies and gorge on candy. Understand why you’re doing all of that. Know that there are rich and deep traditions beneath the festivities. I encourage you to honor loved ones and ancestors who have passed on. Do so with joy, affection, and sincere appreciation for the blessing of connection. If you pay close enough attention, you may just notice that they are not as far away as they seem… 💛
Easy Soul Cakes Recipe
These traditional English soul cakes are a cross between a scone and a biscuit – lightly spiced and filled with currants or raisins were traditionally made for All Souls’ Day on the 2nd November. Recipe adapted from Fuss Free Flavours.
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 35 mins
Servings: 18 Cakes
Calories: 135 Cal
Author: Helen Best-Shaw
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1 pinch saffron or turmeric
1 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 tbs milk
1/3 cup raisins
Cut up the butter into small chunks to allow it to soften. Turn the oven on 360F
Using an electric mixer cream the butter and sugar together in a medium sized mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
Whisk in the egg yolks.
Add the flour and spices adding enough milk until you have a dough that holds together.
Stir in the raisins.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to about 1cm thick
Bake at 360F for about 25 mins until golden and firm.
Adina Arden Cooper
I'm a lover, a guide, a supportive companion. A storyteller, an artist, an ally and an advocate. I help individuals thrive and communities come together through counseling, coaching, and community building. I believe that shared humanity is a powerful strength and that our stories connect us in beautiful and sacred ways. As I stumble, skip, or soar my way through this life, I invite you to join me on the journey. Likewise, I'm honored to travel with you. In witnessing one another, we find meaning.