On the night of Samhain we honor our ancestors and visit our beloved dead.
Often we hold a feast to "feed the ancestors" and connect to our shared history. But try telling children they are going to miss trick-or-treating, costumes, and hauling home sacks of candy, just to sit home and talk about the past. We'd hear the howls all the way to Hawaii!
Families have different solutions for Halloween. In my family, there is a surge of energy that belongs to that special time and adds power and relevance to our worship. It's a wave we have to catch if we want to ride. The adults in our home never accept invitations to secular Halloween parties. Our family treats Samhain as a sacred day spent with our children.
We have our ancestor feasts on the following weekend but plan a significant celebration on Samhain itself. Before the big night, we spend several days making our family altar, creating salt dough figures: tiny pumpkins, owls, black cats, and people in tall hats. We carefully unwrap family treasures left to us by our beloved dead, which we place on the altar. We sort through old family pictures, telling stories as we place them on our holiday altar. We put out pomegranates, make apple chains, and light small jack-o'-lanterns. We hang up and study the roots of our ancestor tree.
When the children come home from school on Halloween, worn out from the excitement and parties, I have a snack waiting: their own roasted pumpkin seeds, a seedcake, and the bread of the dead we've made the night before.
We light candles on the altar and read Samhain stories. Then we cast a circle and stand around our altar and pray together:
Beloved ancestors, we welcome you into our home this Samhain eve. We thank you for your gifts, our life, our family.
I then pray to individual ancestors, thanking them for different qualities and benefits we've inherited from them. "Grandma Ruth, we thank you for passing on your love of music. Grandpa Harry, we thank you for passing to us your inventiveness. Grandpa Lou, we thank you for taking the dangerous trip from Russia to America so that we were born free from fear." We ask their blessings for the new year, and ask them to watch over us.
Then we sit quietly, waiting for any messages. Sometimes they come!
We close the circle and turn our attention to costuming for the evening's candy ramble.
After the children come back from their candy haul, they sort out their bags and eat a previously agreed amount of loot (or a little more). Before bedtime, we go back to the altar, place a few choice pieces of candy upon it as an offering, say goodnight to our ancestors, wish them well on their night out, read another Samhain story, put out an apple for Grandfather Deer, and finally, sleep.