Woke up to the first true frost of the year, on the last day of the Wheel! It's a firm yet gentle reminder that the cold and darkness is almost here. Is your home filled with enough warmth to carry you through to spring? Is your heart? Because today is a day of memory and introspection. Let me tell you all about it.
Farm business first. No fire lit in the wood stove yet, but I did collect some kindling and it will be lit by early afternoon. Happy to share there were no escapes in the night, but I did wake up around 1AM and walk to the front window to make sure the steel garbage can was upright and unbothered. Very grateful it was, and fell back into a glorious sleep.
But it is cold here as my hands cup my hot mug of coffee! Truly, the first frost on Samhain (pronounced Sow-hen) is something to be paying attention to. Maybe you call this holiday Hallowmas, All Saint's, Did De Los Muertas or Halloween, depending on how or where you celebrate.
On this farm I have (for the last 25 years) practiced the old pre-christian holidays of the Wheel of the Year, and this one is most important, as well as the traditional end of the year.
Before modern times—agricultural ancestors of mine spanning from Ireland to Prague—marked passing of years by harvests, when all the work of the farm year was done and homes were stocked and stored for winter. I may be a modern pagan, but not an untraditional one, and this house is loaded with food for winter. There are baskets of potatoes, tumblings of squash, a larder full of stores. I am almost prepared for the hard months ahead. Firewood is stacked, there is some hay in the barn, and that kindling I collected while doing morning chores is the promise of a cozy night by the wood stove, worshiping memories. I can't think of a better holiday for a memoirist, truly.
And tonight I'll be remembering who I have loved and lost, like many other households across the world that share in my traditions.
A Little History:
I don't mind the modern holiday of Halloween. It's fun and silly. I am not a fan of the gory horror side of it, as it feels like a mockery of death and thrill seeking, not the somber and sacred day of lost loved ones, but I understand that holidays and celebrations mean endless things to endless people. Here's how we ended up with this modern party of an ancient Celtic holiday.
Most folks know the Catholic church turned Samhain (the ancient pagan New Years) into All Saints Day (making it a day to remember the holy dead instead of regular family members and friends) but the European folks still practicing Samhain, weren't having it, and eventually All Souls Day was embraced, because the congregations of the newer religion (Christianity) demanded it.
Christianity was never interested in destroying ancient traditions when they could adapt and evolve them, because they weren't stupid. If you can't beat 'em, join em! Since that's how you get the common people to convert, by allowing them to carry over comfortable traditions into new believes. That's how we ended up with Samhain turning into Halloween. All Hallow's Eve, October 31st, the night before All Saints Day (The eve of those who were holy). Which was colloquially shortened to "Hallow'eve" to then, Halloween.
Over the years the meaning of the holiday did change. Much like Mardi Gras was a big festival before the somber practice of Lent, Hallow's Eve became a party night of apple bobbing and fall feasts and stories about the dead went from scrapbooks and memories to scary stories and folklore. People need excuses to gather and be merry in the darker half of the year. For people in the northern hemisphere, this was not only the eve of a holy day, but the true beginning of winter. To wake up to the first frost on Halloween is kind of on the nose. Winter is here.
On this farm I'll be practicing an old tradition called Dumb Supper. It's not the most politically correct name, as it's a holdover from the last mid-century, a word used to mean deaf or mute, but the tradition remains beautiful.
It's a silent meal in the memory of lost loved ones. Tonight I will be dining by candlelight, in silence, with the right music playing and the right tone - because nothing is more holy to me than memories. They're all we have left of who we lost.
Dumb supper means crafting a meal in honor of someone you lost, be it to death or entropy, tragedy or time. If you lost your grandmother last year, and she made an amazing lasagna every Christmas and that's the meal you think of when you think of her, then that is the recipe you learn and recreate on Samhain. Your friend died unexpectedly and you miss them so much your ribs hurt, maybe opening a bag of Fritos on the tailgate of your truck is more appropriate.
If you didn't personally lose any people to death, maybe a pet passed that meant more to you than most family members. Maybe you've become estranged from family or friends. Loss isn't always about death, and this holiday isn't always about it either. It's about the holiness of the connections we once held, and that you can recreate them and relive the memories if you're willing to face that loss and memory. This is why we associate Halloween with the dead, not because of ghosts and goblins - those are cartoons of the real horror - permanent loss and our own mortality.
Anyway, The meal doesn't matter as long as it's significant to the person you're missing. And when you do prepare the meal, or food, or whatever matches the moment, you take part in the meal in silence. There's no talking, even with 30 people at the table, all eating meals they brought in memory of people they lost.
Over the years I have had friends come and share in this holiday, bringing in baskets of special foods or drinks. We share the meal entirely without speaking, usually after the host says a few words or does something simple like ring a small bell or light a candle. The meal doesn't take long, and it's always lovely and peaceful and meditative. Sometimes there are tears, sometimes there is laughter, remembering something mid bite of a Cuban sandwich. And when the meal is done, bell rang, and candle blown out people can take turns sharing about the person they dedicated the meal to, though no one has to.
You don't have to be Pagan to practice this silent meal. If the idea of dressing up as murderers and hanging body part props from your front lawn feels as irreverent and tasteless to you as it does to me, this is a nice and beautiful alternative. It's also somewhat ironic, that there will be so many Christian homes avoiding the Christian recreation of Halloween, with the costumes and devils (there is no satan or devil in paganism, that's satanism - which is a rogue subset of Christianity, not paganism) and ghosts - in favor of the ancient pagan tradition of fall festivals and memories, unknowingly they are choosing the earth religion practice because regardless of belief, it just feels wholesome and right compared to the alternative.
A Quiet Night:
After the meal is cleaned up and the night is darkest, I'll be watching a movie that reminds me most of the person most. Some people move right past the mourning to head out to a party, kinda like the bbq after church, but around here I'll be sipping warm drinks and deep in thought about the things that make life the most sacred and important to me: love and death. What's the point of any of this without love? And all grief is, if anything at all, is the last embers of love. It's how we hold on. It's everything.