Once September has passed and we are heading towards Halloween, it is so easy to feel that the colder, dark days are dragging us down into our own form of sleepy hibernation - the warm cosy bed in the morning is always harder to leave in October, and is Halloween really anything that we can celebrate as a family together anyway?
It is interesting to read that Halloween can perhaps be traced back to the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain which marked the end of the harvest, and the beginning of winter, and was their New Year. An especially significant time, there was a belief that during Samhain a blurring of the boundary between this world and the next allowed for souls, ghosts and fairies to wander the earth. It was celebrated with bonfires, gatherings, and feasts when communities looked to connect with deceased loved ones and otherworldly spirits. Some sources say that to have ventured out during Samhain was to have risked being taken away by the harmful spirits, so to avoid being recognised, people wore masks and disguises to confuse and scare them away. The task of going door to door collecting food for the feast, wood and fuel for the bonfires, and offerings for the fairies or spirits, has possibly evolved into the Halloween tradition we know today as ‘trick or treat’.
It is not only little ghosts that one sees today at Halloween. Little witches also threaten to ‘trick or treat’. The wisdom of the Earth was celebrated at Samhain. The Earth Goddess was pictured as an Old Wise Woman in black who stood at the dying of the Old Year, on the threshold of the New. She has come into our culture as a witch figure but was seen then as powerful and full of great wisdom.
Where does the carving of pumpkins, a widespread Halloween tradition come from? Well, some say that they were used to ward off evil spirits, or perhaps they were simply a fun way to scare unwary people. In 18th century Worcestershire, they were called Hoberdy’s lanterns and were carved from turnips.
The idea of a celebration of the year’s harvest, and looking to the future, is a wonderful re-frame for this time of year - no need to feel that Winter is the last season of the year and a time to 'survive' until the Spring, or that Halloween is a nasty ‘trick’, over-commercialised and something to avoid, but that it is a ‘treat’ that is actually our doorway through to wonder and delight of what is to come; a time for reflection, giving thanks, recharging and renewing!
When your little ones are tiny, starting to create and form your family traditions are wonderful and exciting times. Making the day special, even if only acknowledged in small ways, means it will become something your little ones look forward to, year after year, however old and sophisticated they become!
Pumpkin carving can be as simple or elaborate as your carving skills can make it; bringing the light into your home amongst the dark and cold evening is a very special, meditative craft that you can do together as a family, or when the children are a little younger, you can make the magic simply appear. Allowing those pumpkins to shine out in the cold evening is a wonderful beacon. When my little one was still only one, we carved our pumpkin and lit it on the nature table in our sitting room, and as she came in from the kitchen her sense of wonder and delight was so gratifying. She couldn't have been more amazed, and we couldn't have felt more pleased!
Halloween is a perfect time for a family story around the lit pumpkin. There is a wonderful story called The Little Hobgoblin: A Halloween Story.
Baking biscuits in the shape of pumpkins, or making a pumpkin soup out of the inside of your carved pumpkin, are both activities that you can do together to allow the moment to be recognised and celebrated.
It is always wonderful to focus on the animals and plants at this time of year too, noticing the squirrel tucking away nuts for the long winter, and how the leaves change colour. There are things to see and do in the garden too - look for the garden plants folding back down into the earth, or rake up the leaves for the compost heap. To us these are chores perhaps, but for our little ones, who remind us really of the wonder of life, these acts, these ‘jobs', help us notice and appreciate the passing of the year, and the rhythms of our world around us. The story of the enormous Turnip is always wonderful to tell both as a story, or acted out together. We have always rather felt that if they had only asked the gnomes if they might pull the turnip, it would have been a lot easier, but then, ease is not the point of the story!
There are so many wonderful stories, poems, and songs to tell and share as we notice the leaves crunching under our feet, or when we think about the gnomes and ‘root children' who carry the flowers, animals and seeds back to mother earth, to care for them until the earth is warm enough again for them. If you don't know Sibylle Von Olfers Story – The Story of the Root Children, it is a wonderful book, and she is a wonderful author.
However you and your family mark this day, happy planning, and happy new year ;)