While Americans are busy filling up plastic orange pumpkins with candy and hanging spooky, sparkly spiders around the porch, the spirits of Samhain are roaming the foggy dells of Ireland as they have for thousands of years. The Celts have always believed that the season marking the line between the sunny warmth of summer and the dark cold of winter is the time when the veil between life and death is the thinnest. This makes Samhain (SAH-win, meaning summer's end) the best time of the year for spirits to pass through and mingle among the living. Fire and food factor heavily into the celebration of Samhain. In ancient days bonfires were lit to both warm the living and keep the evil spirits at bay. Fire was also believed to aid the waning sun in its journey through winter and the underworld. John Gilroy writes in Tlachtga: Celtic Fire Festival, "Now the sun has descended into the realm of the underworld, the forces of the underworld were in the ascendency. The lord of the underworld...now walked the earth and with him travelled all those other creatures from the abode of the dead. Ghosts, fairies and a host of other non-descript creatures went with him.Animals and crops were usually thrown into the burning fire as a sacrifice to the dead and the powers from the underworld. Home hearths were snuffed out and relit from the year's bonfires to symbolize a new beginning and to bring protection from the coming winter. Bountiful food was cooked and offered to the dead both to appease the evil spirits and to honor deceased ancestors. Foods that we still associate with autumn, like apples and pumpkin recipes, were common Samhain offerings. Costumes also played a part in traditional Samhain celebrations. Thinking a disguise would trick evil spirits into passing by, people created masks and gowns to hide from the ghosts and spooks roaming the world looking for someone to destroy. People often celebrated their ancestors as well by adding adornments to the costumes that honored someone beloved who had crossed to the other world. This Halloween - whether you dress up in costume, bob for apples, or enjoy a pumpkin-spiced drink by the bonfire - you should raise a toast to those Celtic spirits wandering the landscape of Ireland and the traditions they bring with them every year. Halloween night in Weston the local Main Street Merchants have trick or treat, come downtown and get some treats and meet your neighbors!
The smell of autumn is a blazing bonfire. The sight is a pile of orange pumpkins. The sound of the season is crunching leaves underfoot. The taste of autumn is hot mulled wine or Irish coffee. The feel of autumn? The warmth and comfort of a well-made sweater wrapped around you. After a long, hot summer it takes just one brisk day to make us cheer, "Hurrah for Sweater Weather!" Of course in Ireland, sweater weather spans at least three-quarters of the months of the year. The reason the Irish are considered such experts on sweater design and construction is that sweaters, sometimes called jumpers in the British Isles, are far more than a fashion statement in a climate where doing anything outdoors often relies upon finding a way to stay both warm and dry. What often comes to mind when people think of Irish sweaters are the fishman cable knits of the Aran Islands. In fact the heavy knit sweaters originated there as a way for the fishermen and farmers to combat the wet, windy weather. Knit from untreated sheep's wool, the intact oils made the sweaters both warm and water-resistant. It also made them the iconic cream color of undyed wool. Their popularity spread throughout Ireland when the Congested Districts Board promoted knitting as a good source of income utilizing local materials. Irish women quickly took to the project and began creating intricately-designed sweaters, scarves, hats, socks, gloves and more. As laypeople had not as much need for water resistance, the sweaters became available in treated wool, but the truly traditional remain still the well-recognized cream color. After decades of popularity in Ireland, the designs took off in America in the 1950s when the famous Irish Kennedy family wore them for football games and sailing. There are hundreds of different patterns knit into the traditional sweaters. Some marketing touts the myth that certain clans and families can search for their own particular design. The truth is that the designs came about in as many variations as there were different knitters. So no matter your family name, your heritage, or your career choice, you can find a sweater just right for you. Check your forecast, pour a mug of Irish coffee, and wrap up in a bit of Irish warmth. Come celebrate Autumn at our Applefest celebration October 3 and 4 in downtown Weston, Missouri.