Kudos if you know the song reference 🙂
It has been so seasonally perfect lately, I can’t remember the last time I had a visually stunning Fall/Autumn like this. The colors of the trees are blazing amongst the remaining green that is mostly attributed to pines. The temperature has dropped to a high of mid-40 (Fahrenheit) and I’ve already busted out the winter gear in preparation (long johns, boots, wool socks, coats, etc.). A weekend visit back home in Chicago has given me a sharp contrast, as it’s much drabber and more green still there.
This beauty combined with my love for winter has helped much in adapting to living in a new place, and I’m starting to like it here. I’m very much looking forward to what festivities NE Wisconsin will produce for the holidays, starting with Halloween. Living out of my parent’s house has also helped in exploring my own traditions more, and what I want to keep and/or develop.
Some Neopagans call this time of year the “Dark half”. which coincides with the common Asatru depiction of this being the “Winter” half. I’m lucky enough to live in a location where the seasonal changes match quite closely to the old European calendars, so I’m easily able to incorporate my heritage’s traditions into my daily life.
Let’s start with Halloween, for example.
Like some, I treat Halloween as a secular, cultural festival day, and I’m lucky to have grown up and live in places that embraced Halloween as such. Free candy, scary movies, neighborhood bonfires with cider and beer, and the costumes; what’s not to love? As far as pagan attributes go, the partying and costumes alone are pretty pagan. How many stories are there of becoming intoxicated and dressing up as something else to BE something else from ye olde days, wrecking havoc and mischief along the way? Even in our secular, “enlightened” era many of us feel the need to play and exchange roles like children, and Halloween provides a culturally acceptable time to do so. A release from the usual day-to-day social rigidity.
There’s also the pagan attribute of all the goulies, ghosties and overall scary things coming out on Halloween, especially at night, that remains in popular stories and movies. Some Neopagan descriptions relate that Halloween/Samhain is a time where the “veil” between worlds is at its thinnest, so that demonic beings can move into “our” world. While I don’t believe in the concept of “worlds” the same way, I can agree with the sentiment. Halloween is the start of the darkness of the year for me, therefore it is also the start of certain wiht activity, such as that of the dead. They become more active, and closer to home than in the summer.
Halloween, or the end of it, also starts off a season of ritual ancestor veneration. After the parties and trick-or-treating comes the solemn side of things. I come from a Catholic family, so I kept the Days of the Dead (November 1 and 2) in my calendar observations (no, it is not just a Mexican holiday, though their ways of celebrating this time is uniquely colorful and inspiring). Instead of the “official Catholic” way of doing it, I instead keep both days for ancestor veneration. Saying hello, giving thanks to them, giving offerings of food and coffee (ideally also liquor and tobacco, but I currently don’t know what brands my great-grandparents and beyond preferred so that may not happen). Preferably this would be done by visiting their graves, but for this and next year I won’t be close enough to do so. However, photos and items on a shrine work in a pinch.
I’m especially looking forward to Halloween and Days of the Dead this year because of finally being able to celebrate them in peace and as fully as possible.
Now I’m sure some of you may be thinking “well, wait a minute, I thought heathens did the ancestor worship bit during Yule and Samhain was a Wiccan/Celtic thing instead”. You would be correct. Like I mentioned earlier, Days of the Dead would be like Halloween in that it’s the START of a season of such religious activities rather than the only days I do it (US Thanksgiving in November is another, in the context of being a harvest feast). Late October/Early November is when I first sense the dead and certain other wihts becoming more active, but the height of their activity would occur during Yule, particularly just after Christmas/Winter Solstice. That time of year, called the 12 Rough Nights in contemporary Central European folklore, and the days just before that, are when a lot of things happen with ancestors and wihts (like the Wild Hunt). After that, the activity slowly dies down (no pun intended) until the last of Winter is driven out (one of the Perchtenlauf themes, possibly Busojaras and related demonic parades that occur prior to Lent). Then the dead settle back into the earth as the season shifts to the Summer half and different wihts awaken or come back.
I love this time of year so much.