Samhain, (pronounced saa-win or saa-ween) falls on 31st October. Although it’s more commonly celebrated as Halloween, I’ll be focusing on the older traditions of the festival as this blog is part of my Celtic Wheel of the Year series. Gather around the cauldron, folks, and let’s get started!
WHAT IS SAMHAIN?
Samhain, in the Northern Hemisphere anyway, is the celebration of the last Harvest of the year. There are three Harvests in a Celtic year – the first being Lammas, the second being Mabon. Due to the importance of agriculture in the past, the third and final Harvest is seen by many as the end of the old year/start of the new.
Samhain was originally celebrated in Europe as a Celtic Fire festival and, although many think of Samhain as being on the 31st October, some celebrate it over several days and nights. These celebrations can last until November 6th (which is nearer the astronomical mid-point between Mabon and Yule). There’s a reason we associate October and November time with big bonfires and fireworks, and not all of it has to do with a certain Mister Fawkes!
As the festival marks the start of the coldest and darkest months of the natural year, it’s no surprise that it’s also seen as a Festival of the Dead across many religions – think All Hallows Eve and Día de Muertos. It is a time to remember loved ones and those who have passed on.
The Celtic festivals play an important role in my Equinox Series. Samhain is steeped in Irish Mythology and, like Beltane, it’s seen as a time when the boundary between the human world and the spirit world can be more easily crossed. This means that the Fae folk – nature spirits – could visit humans, as well as the souls of the dead. It was believed that the Fae needed to be appeased and paid tribute to on Samhain, and so food and drink were left outside for them. The festival also traditionally involved mumming (disguising oneself, possibly as a way of protecting oneself from malevolent Fae) and involved people going door-to-door in these costumes, reciting verses in exchange for food. Sounds a bit like our modern Trick-or-Treating!
But in case you’re not into the spiritual element of Samhain/Halloween, let’s focus on my favourite part of any festival… the food.
SAMHAIN FOOD (& DRINK)
The world is getting colder, so you need something to warm you up. Meet Beef Stew, a loyal friend of mine. I love stew (especially when served with dumplings, don’t forget those!) so if you’re a meat eater looking for some comfort, you can’t go far wrong with this. This particular recipe looks delicious, so I guess I know what I’ll be having for dinner this Halloween.
If meat isn’t your thing and especially if you want to use up all those pumpkin innards leftover from your carving session with the kids, this recipe is for you. A very autumnal and delicious dish, although don’t forget the opportunity to add some sweet potato in there if you possibly can. Note: it is always possible to add sweet potato.
No dinner is complete without a dessert, and this is just the thing. This cake is to be served with milk or hot chocolate, so what’s not to love? (I will be having mine with Hot Chocolate. Because obviously.)
And a drink for those over 18…
Hands up, I have no idea what this will taste like, having never had it before but my goodness, do I want to taste some now. This recipe is in my to-do list pile and it should be in yours too.
And something sweet for those under 18…
FUN AND FROLICS
Now that we’re well-fed (and if we tried a Howling Jack, probably three sheets to the wind as well), let’s get started on our Samhain Frolics. I won’t include pumpkin carving here, because everyone does that, but there are some traditional games included below!
Apples and nuts are a traditional food of Samhain, perhaps more so than pumpkins. But if you don’t feel like crunching through a bushel, why not make some candles to light your way in the dark instead?
See also: mini pumpkin candles.
This is possibly the creepiest thing I will ever post (I hate creepy children in horror films). Pretty simple – find an old frame, a styrofoam head from a DIY or craft shop – or even an old doll’s head – cover with cheesecloth et voila!
All you need is a bandage and a pair of googly eyes (available from any craft shop). This is an easy craft activity to do with children of any age, and adds something extra to the usual Halloween decor.
An alternative to apple bobbing, the aim of the game is to suspend doughnuts on a string and try to eat them without using your hands. A tricky treat!
Simple to set up, and next-to-no mess. Split into teams of two (or more) and, using toilet roll, race to make a mummy out of one of your team members. Every inch of the person must be covered – but make sure they can still breathe!
And something a bit more personal…
This is a tradition that’s pretty steadfast in the Goodacre household. Each year, I select 2 simple recipes: dinner and a drink, usually, and have my three kidlets help me out with making things like Goblin Chunks with Boiled Flobberworms (Spaghetti and Meatballs). We usually top this off with some Ground Hippogriff Claw in Basilisk Milk (Hot Chocolate).
The premise is simple: put all the ingredients in strange containers, add food dye to disguise them, and label up the containers with ‘old’ looking titles (see below).
This works well for kids of all ages – mine are between 13 and 4 years old, and everyone enjoys themselves. Everyone is given an age appropriate task (for the young ones, mixing the ingredients together in a bowl and getting messy, for the older ones, stirring the hot cauldron on the hob). At the end of it, you have a delicious but usually very strange-looking meal!
Please note: if your children are fussy eaters, then it’s quite possible they’ll refuse to eat, say, Chopped Mandrake Roots with Spiders Legs, Earthworms and Diced Snake Meat (Chicken stir fry). Our then-4 year old managed one forkful before refusing to eat it anymore. The other two ate their dinners (and hers) with relish!