By Cathy Thurber
Halloween is right around the corner. It’s a fabulous time of the year for me, as I LOVE to decorate for it. Plus, there’s always the candy I steal from my kids after they’ve painstakingly hit every house on the surrounding streets. I confess, though, that I cannot watch many of the horror movies that are on TV that time of year….my imagination just hits overdrive and then I’m seeing ghostly things everywhere.
I have a friend that doesn’t celebrate Halloween – she celebrates Samhain (pronounced Sow-wen). Samhain is an old holiday that is celebrated by many pagans. It’s a harvest festival that’s linked to the Celtic (Irish/Scottish) culture. This festival would mark the end of the summer harvest and the “lighter” half of the year, getting people ready for the “darker” half. People would light two bonfires and then walk between them with their livestock as a cleansing ritual. Another Gaelic custom was to wear costumes and masks in order to confuse any harmful ghosts that were out that night. Large turnips would be hollowed out and carved with faces to ward off evil spirits. These practices, of course, have been carried over to the present day – except we forgo the turnips and use pumpkins.
Many of those that celebrate Samhain also believe this is a time of year when the “door” to the Otherworld opened just enough for the fairies and the dead to communicate with us. As my friend says, the veil between the two worlds is so thin that your ancestors can come visit you during this time period. It is a custom to set an empty place at the dinner table for the souls of your dead family on Samhain night. I don’t hold the same religious beliefs as her, but I found this very interesting. What a lovely concept, to set an extra place and let your loved ones know that you are still thinking of them and welcome them in your life. I have, for the last few years, set an extra place at the table on Halloween. Spirits of our family may – or may not – come to visit us during dinner, but I can tell you that it has opened up discussion for all of us. It’s ended up being a time when we remember those who have passed in our lives. We usually end up laughing and sharing the good memories. Hopefully our family hears us and feels our joy that we gained from sharing their lives. I know I would want to be remembered with that kind of love.
Try setting an extra place at dinner this Halloween. It may feel odd, but I suggest you try it. Whether or not a soul shows up, I bet you’ll start sharing some fond memories of those you’ve loved and lost. And in the end, that’s always cleansing for your soul.