Samhain, beginning at dusk on 31 October, spirals us into the winter season of the ancient Irish calendar. Our Celtic ancestors believed that beginnings began at sunset, or at the end of the day, heralding going into the dark before celebrating the rebirth into the light. With these same intentions, Samhain is also known as the Celtic New Year, inviting us to slow down, move inward, to nest and rest and dream what we hope to give birth to in the spring. In the Samhain garden at Brigit’s Garden, the serene Leaf Woman sculpture epitomizes this stillness.
Consider how Nature responds to the season of winter. Leaves are released and the energy of the plants moves into its roots and seeds. There is stillness at the surface yet the plants and the trees are receiving the nourishment of the Earth in the dark depths and discovering fecund richness there. Just like the trees, it is a time that encourages us to release what is no longer serving in our lives, to let it fall away.
The festival of Samhain is a time to honor death and the ancestors. It is a liminal time, when the veil between the worlds is at its most thin. This means we may feel closer to those that have gone before, as well as to the Nature realms of fairies and the Other World. Many cultures celebrate similar festivals to Samhain: Christians celebrate All Souls Day and All Saints Day, and Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico.
Turnips are more widely available than pumpkins and an indigenous food in Ireland, a wild root nourished and grown in the Earth. We have carved turnips in Ireland for much longer than pumpkins, which was most likely an immigrant from the Americas. Often I will just carve out the center of the turnip and place a tea light in the center to create a beautiful warm glow. Traditionally faces would have been designed on the turnips, if you are able to find one large enough!
Another long-held tradition in Ireland on the night of Samhain is to set a plate for the ancestors at your table. Favorite foods to include at the Samhain feast are colcannon, soda bread, butter, honey and whiskey. Include other foods to remember loved ones, bring out photographs and share stories. Light candles to illuminate the dark and celebrate the turning of the wheel of the year and all the wisdom each of the seasons provides.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
1 cup whole wheat, whole grain flower
1 cup white flour
1 level teaspoon of bread (baking) soda
1 cup of buttermilk (or add 1 tsp of white vinegar to 1 cup of milk and it will create buttermilk)
Mix all ingredients well, with your hands. Visualize the hands of your ancestors kneading and forming the dough with you. Do not over knead, just enough to mix well together. Form into a round loaf and mark a cross on the top with a sharp knife. Cook in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Best served warm with Kerrygold butter.