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!
You don’t need to look far for a reason to party like a Celt. With eight sacred days in addition to the typical Church holidays like Christmas and Easter, Celts are always either planning a party or recovering from one. Here’s the yearly run-down for special occasions to celebrate: February 1 – St. Brigid’s Day, marking the beginning of Spring March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day, also the Vernal Equinox May 1 – Bealtine, or May Day, marking the beginning of Summer June 21 – Summer Solstice mid-August – Lughnasa, marking the beginning of harvest September 21 – Autumnal Equinox October 31-November 2 – Samhain, marking the sacred period between All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls Day December 21 – Winter Solstice But you don’t need to wait for a special day to host a celebration. Put out the invites for a “céilidh” (“a visit” or kitchen party), a féis (festival), a luadhadh (a milling frolic) or a bogadh (an immersion dance) and you can party like a Celt any old day of the year. Just make sure you have the appropriate food, drink, stories, and music on hand. Invite your favorite harpist, fiddler or bagpiper. Fire up the kettle with an Irish stew or colcannon. Break out your finest Irish whiskey and chill the glasses for the Guinness. Tell your favorite Celtic story, or just throw such a great party that it becomes the stuff of legend itself.