The Gleaner
Arts & Life

Ancient holiday will be observed locally

Rachel Patenaude

Although many people around the world celebrate Halloween with costumes, pumpkins, and trick-or-treating, the holiday has its roots in a more meaningful practice. What we know as Halloween today borrows its traditions from a couple of different observances, most notably Samhain.

Pronounced “sow-ihn,” Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, occurring halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. The earliest mention of the holiday comes from ninth century Irish literature, which describes Samhain as a time of great gatherings and feasts. The Celts also believed it to be the time of year when the boundary between this world and the afterlife was thinnest, which made communicating with departed loved ones easier.

Samhain is still widely observed in Ireland and in other places all around the world. Lesle-Ann Hine, an Ormstown resident who celebrates the traditions of Samhain, describes it as a time to “honour the deaths and the new births of the year, which complete the cycle of life.” She speaks of all the symbolism to be found at this time of year, saying, “[It’s] the season of the dying back, leaves falling off and feeding the soil which is then going to spring new life next year. This whole period … I love it.”

While Hine is excited to receive trick-or-treaters on her doorstep this Halloween, she is also hoping to celebrate Samhain with her visitors. She’ll be putting up a large, autumn-decorated board, which will be used to honour loved ones who have passed; she invites people to bring images of their loved ones to put up on the board, and to light a tealight for them. She’ll also have adhesive notes on hand for those who don’t want to bring a photo. “It’s a time of honouring death; we can’t have life without death,” she says.

Samhain is a time to celebrate the cycle of life, both the earth’s cycle and our own as its inhabitants. Hine is excited to share this tradition with her neighbours and hopes it will open peoples’ minds to other ways people might celebrate this time of year. “[I want to] bring some of the sacredness and history back to what this meant, and I’m hoping folks think about what this time of year is about,” she says.

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