Everyone knows that Samhain is just the pagan word for Halloween, right?
Except no, it's not. Samhain has nothing to do with costumes or candy, or even the time-honored tradition of scaring yourself witless. Wikipedia defines it as "a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year." Which is, on the surface, mostly correct. Sort of.
Nailing down what the pagan sabbats actually mean is tricky. Because it's different for each person. Most of our traditions carry a common thread, but the individual beliefs and practices on each holiday vary from person to person.
But everyone knows that Samhain and Halloween are on the same day, so what's the big deal, right? Except, again, no, it's not. Samhain falls directly between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. While many pagans mark October 31st/Nov 1st as the time to celebrate, it's important to note that our traditions don't follow modern calendars. More and more, as paganism and witchcraft are gaining popularity as a trendy "aesthetic," (Yeah, about that. Fuck off with this noise, okay?) the subtleties of our faith are lost to the convenience of modern society. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with celebrating Samhain and Halloween together on October 31st, but I do think it's important to remember our roots. These holidays were observed in time with the moon and the sun and the stars. Our religion is one of harmony with nature. It makes sense, then, that our traditions honor that.
Samhain begins with the new moon. This year, that falls on November 7th. Today.
In some aspects, Samhain is the end of the year, in as much as a wheel can have an end. The celebration of the death of the harvest season, the time when the veil between the living and the dead grows thin, because the Earth herself is on the cusp of sleep, hibernating until it's rebirth in the spring. Many of us feel a need to rest during this time. It's a time for introspection and a time to give thanks to the Earth for the bounty of our harvests. Traditionally, Samhain doesn't end until the next full moon. A full month of quiet contemplation and preparation for the harder winter months. Our holidays don't simply stop when the party is over; they wax and wane with the moon.
Today, I will clean my house, do my laundry, and perform the myriad of duties that befall adulthood. I'll cook a meal, and enjoy it with my family, even the ones who cannot be present. I will bathe myself in salt and ash, and I will converse with my gods. I will thank them for their guidance, for their love, and for their patience. I will leave food as an offering, and I will thank the Earth herself for sheltering me. Samhain is a time to be humble, and now, more than ever, I think we need that reminder.