Samhain (sow-in) or Halloween is the most popular and celebrated pagan holiday around. Halloween is so widely celebrated that your local Target and Walmart start stocking the candy and costumes in mid August.
While every culture and religion have different practices surrounding this day, I want to tell you about how my family celebrations can easily involve your kids.
Because we all know that those little ones want in on all that Mom and Dad do.
For us, Samhain has three major traditions and lessons.
Honoring the Ancestors.
We will celebrate them. We will tell their history and stories. We will also cook family recipes or their favorite foods. Anything that keeps their memory alive.
In the Celtic tradition, Samhain is known as the Last Harvest.
At the end of summer, when the cold winds would start to blow in, farmer’s and herdsman would evaluate their herds and livestock and determine which were fit to last the winter and which weren’t. They would do a final gather of any crops and slaughter any of the herd that would not last.
We celebrate this by creating and preserving our own jerky and we celebrate this by ritually culling any negative habits or thoughts that no longer serve us or our higher purpose.
The Witch’s New Year.
Also in most traditions, but specifically the Celtic one, Samhain is also known as the new year. The cycle of seasons comes to close and winter is the time for things to go dormant.
We celebrate this by not only culling what doesn’t serve us but to reflect on the last “planting” and “growing” season.
Did we accomplish our goals? What thoughts and habits grew that we’d like to cultivate and keep in the coming year? What is something new we can plant next year?
The biggest tradition that we have is our Ancestor Altar. So while we are pulling out Halloween decorations for the house we also set this up.
The altar is essentially our seasonal home altar that gets changed out with each of our holidays. We’ll also change it up if our intuition calls to us to.
Honoring Our Ancestry
For Samhain, we expand our home altar to included our ancestors. Witches, Pagans, and others believe that the “veil” that separates our world from a spirit world is thinner at this time of year. So it is a time to remember them and their stories. Our ancestors shape us. Through their DNA, their choices and stories, we are shaped and are in the places we are today because of them.
If my husband’s ancestor hadn’t taken the boat to America when he did, he may not have been able to settle the land in Texas and instead may have found himself in Oklahoma. Speed through a generation or two and I may never have come across him.
If my grandmother hadn’t chosen to move to Texas when she did, I may never have come to live and grow here either.
What to Put on The Ancestor Altar?
Pictures of deceased loved ones.
Knick-knacks or jewelry that they have passed to us.
Any letters or journals they may have written in.
Their favorite foods or recipes.
How to Involve Your Kids?
Have a story telling hour where you or your children tell stories about them. Tell of the places they are from. Sing their favorite songs. Anything that helps keep their memory alive.
Have your kids draw or color a picture for their ancestors and place it on the altar as an offering.
Have your kids help cook any favorite family recipes and leave a portion on the altar for them.
Story Time Warm Milk Recipe:
2 Cups of Milk (can be almond or soy milk)
1/4 tsp of Cinnamon
1/8 tsp of Nutmeg
1/8-1/4 cup of Sugar
Instructions: Whisk all ingredients together in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Continuously stir until desired temperature. Do not boil! Pour into mugs and serve.
Enjoy story time!
Burch Family Recipe for Dumb Supper
1 chuck roast (about 3 lbs)
1 pound of carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 pounds of red potatoes (peeled and cut into chunks)
1 onion (peeled and and cut into chunks)
2 stalks of celery (diced)
1 cup of Beef Broth
1 tablespoon of cornstarch (optional)
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of thyme
1 tablespoon of rosemary
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1/2 teapsoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of parsley
Instructions: Coat meat in olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning mixture. Bring a pan to high heat and sear the meat on each side. Set roast into a slow cooker. Coat veggies in olive oil and mix with remaining seasonings in a bowl. Then, add veggies to slow cooker. Pour in beef broth and cover with lid. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 5 hours.
Gravy (optional) When finished cooking, scoop out about 1 cup of liquid from the slow cooker. Whisk in cornstarch and keep whisking until thickened. Pour gravy back over meat and veggies.
We set a portion of this aside in a bowl for our ancestors. Honoring their love of cooking and recipes that have been shared with us.
Last Harvest of the Year and the Witch’s New Year
Everything comes in seasons and patterns and cycles. Samhain is the third and last harvest in the cycle. This is the official end of summer and in ancient days it would be time to cull the herd of any who might not survive the winter.
Farmers would cull any old or non producing animals that would be hard to feed through a cold winter. They would then hang and preserve the meat to last them through winter as well. Just like our ancestors, you can easily create your own jerky in a dehydrator or in the oven.
Easy Oven Jerky Recipe:
3 lbs of flank steak
1/2 cup of teriyaki sauce
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
Instructions: Slice the steak into even thin slices. Marinade in a bag for 24 hours. Set the oven to 350 degrees. Lay all steak slices on a grid baking rack. Bake in oven for 10 minutes allowing it to cook and kill all bacteria. Then set your oven to 160 degrees and crack the oven door just a bit. This will allow the moisture to escape and help dry the meat out. It can take anywhere from 3 – 6 hours to fully dry depending on how thin your slices were. Check them at 3 hours and every 30 minutes after. Let me cool and enjoy!
Obviously if you have a dehydrator this will be a much easier process!
What Can You Cull in Your Life?
Since I’m betting you don’t have a herd to cull, you might be at a loss on how to do this part in a modern setting.
Just like culling the animals that no longer serve a purpose, it is now time to cut out any habits, thoughts, and items that are no longer serving your higher purpose.
So write down on a piece of paper every thought and habit you want to be rid of. Take as much or as little time as you need.
Some items on my list last year was:
I am not enough
Maybe I am failing as a mom
I’ll never catch up to my bills.
Once you have your list and your kid’s list, you are going to burn them. If you have a fireplace set up this will be easy. If you don’t have a fireplace, you can always follow the directions below for burning this or you can bury the list somewhere.
How to Burn Paper without a Fireplace:
Some space outside
2 cups of dirt
Paper list to be burned
Bucket of water (for safety)
Instructions: Find a fireproof bowl or terracotta pot and add about 1-2 cups of dirt in the bottom. Create hole as if you were going to plant something. Then, tear your list into a couple of pieces. I recommend at least 4 to 8 pieces. Next, you’ll light each piece with the match and set it in the bowl. This will let it burn safely. Burn each piece.
When you are done, take a deep breath in and let it and all those habits you burned go.
The Witch’s New Year – A Time of Reflection and Goal Setting
Take some time to reflect on the past “planting” and “growing” season of your life. What did you plant and what grew from it? Were there parts of you or your life that you neglected? What worked and what didn’t work for you and your family?
Are there new things you’d like to plant and bring to fruition?
I like to create spiritual and personal new year’s resolutions at this time. How can I grow in my craft? What thoughts and mindsets can a I grow that will serve me and those around me better?
How to Involve the Kids?
We can reflect with them and guide them through these questions.
I also like to talk to kids about the upcoming milestones they’ll have in the next year. Usually that’s starting a new grade in school, or a new level of sports. If there’s a move planned we can talk about those upcoming changes. If they would like to make changes we talk about that.
It was during one such reflection that my cousin let me know that she wanted to start wearing more and practicing her makeup skills. I would not have know her interest if we hadn’t taken the time to reflect and discuss it.
Now don’t get me wrong, we still practice a lot of Halloween traditions at this time too. We will still go costume shopping and trick or treating. We will still take our risks with pumpkin carving.
But we’ll also honor the ancestors that helped shape us. We’ll cook and laugh and celebrate. We’ll spend the time in reflection and working our smiles and magic.
Because at the end of the day, no matter how you celebrate, its all magic.