... I pause to think upon the many meanings associated with that day. For most, thoughts turn towards Halloween, its Christianized, modernized, and commercialized equivalent, and about jack o' lanterns, getting cute costumes for the kids, ensuring a good supply of treats, worrying about the "tricks", and thinking about what to do for one's own costume to win the contest at the company Halloween party.
As much as I miss my childhood days of trying to get as much candy as possible, my thoughts are a fair bit different. Yes, I do think about whether or not to try for a costume this year (but, sadly, cannot afford one yet again, nor do I have the skills, time and/or equipment to make my own) and I also wonder about what to expect from this neighbourhood (shall have to ask the neighbours) in terms of how ill behaved the local youth can be.
But, in the front of my mind, I think about the ancient Celtic view of Samhain (pronounced "sa-wen") and the celebration of the harvest (Samhain being the final harvest rite). Now I'm pretty far removed from the farming traditions of my family, but the idea of reaping the rewards of one's labour over the course of the year is still quite relevant. Afterall, when would be a better time to celebrate one's accomplishments over the course of the year?
Okay, okay, I can already hear a number of people shouting "New Year's Eve!" and in response to that, well, you're absolutely correct. And, for the Celtic peoples, Samhain was, indeed, New Year's Eve. Of course, for a people whose lives revolved around the cycles of farming, the last day of harvest would be the most appropriate one to celebrate the year with.
So what have I to think about this year? Well, it did see a huge change in my health, including finally being rid of the need to use a CPAP machine to deal with obstructive sleep apnea, as well as actually running a 10k race (a HUGE accomplishment for me). Career wise, it was nice to kept for more than a year, even if I was given all crap classes to teach this year. I no longer question my own ability as a teacher and no longer have anything to really prove to myself in that regard.
This weekend, I'll be marking year 11 Original Writing coursework. In a very true sense, I will being seeing the results of a LOT of effort I have put into their Hero's Journey project over the past half term. I am already well pleased by how many of them actually produced work (this is a very low ability and under-motivated group). Like I say, I no longer really have anything to prove to myself, teaching-wise.
Family wise, this summer proved very important in that I returned to places and people that I hadn't seen since my childhood. It was a great time of spiritual and emotional healing. I was also pleased and relieved to see two of my grandparents, who will not be much longer for this world. It is quite possible that I have seen them for the last time, but, at least, my final memories of them will be pleasant ones.
Traditionally, the Celtic New Year was celebrated with large bonfires used to symbolize purification. In many instances, two bonfires would be set and both people and livestock would be passed between the two in act of purification (ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain).
As Samhain saw the end of the old and the beginning of the new, it was also a time to reflect on one's departed loved ones. By legend, the barrier between the world of the living and that of the dead would be thinnest, as the Summer Lord (Holly Lord, Green Man, etc.) made his descent in the underworld to await rebirth in the spring. There are a plethora of different practices associated with this aspect of Samhain. "Trick or treating" is derived from practices involving leaving offerings for the dead, such as food and drink. Many modern pagans utilize the tradition of the "dumb feast," in which a place is set at one's dinner table for the honoured dead. I, myself, tend to light special candles and share a drink with the dead, in a fashion that would be similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead (one day I'll have to explore the reasons for the many parallels between such similar practices on this day for such differing cultures).
Interestingly, during my early years as a pagan, I actually didn't have any specific people from my life to honour. I gave thanks to my ancestors, as an abstract generality, and to a person of substantial effect on my own spiritual values, O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba. That changed with the death of my grandmother some years back. Now, I light a candle specifically for her, as well as one for my ancestors.
Of course, such communion with the dead also includes the God, as embodied by the Holly Lord. The solemnity of this ceremony is tempered, though, by the acknowledgment that, whilst He and the land pass into a time of darkness, Spring will see His rebirth, as light and warmth once again begin to embrace the world. Oh, and also all that celebration (The Dead drink a lot, you know! You have to keep pace with 'em!).
Sorta goes well beyond "Shall I dress as a witch for Halloween?", don't it. *chuckle*
I think I'll end this reflection with the suitably seasonal song, Holly Lord, by the Australian folk band, Spiral Dance. The song can be heard here: http://www.soundclick.com/bands/songInfo .cfm?bandID=461752&songID=3411737