So we're planning our Halloween party. Preparations are in full swing, from the Doctor Who Weeping Angels by the front door to the graveyard with the presiding Grim Reaper waiting out front to greet guests. The menu is planned - tiny chocolate witch hats, bread dough fingers, mozzarella eyeballs, green punch.
People who know I'm a practicing Pagan sometimes assume that our observation of Samhain is completely solemn. And parts of it are, but because we live with friends and neighbors who are not pagan we do have a huge mainstream celebration so that we can share one of our favorite days with them. Our party is a huge hit with our friends, and just one of several we attend during the season.
On Samhain, itself, things get a bit more serious. According to Pagan tradition, Samhain marks the death of the old God, who returns to the Land of the Dead to be reborn at Yule on December 21. (If this birth of a God sounds familiar to Christians, it's no accident. This Pagan birthday celebration precedes Christmas by many, many years).
The Goddess mourns her lost son/king during this time and withdraws as well, leaving her followers in temporary darkness. The withdrawal of the God and Goddess thins the veil between the world of the living and the dead. Pagans believe that this one night of the year is an active one for spirits which may visit loved ones. Each year we leave a plate out for departed relatives and pets, who are invited to join us for dinner.
Leaving food and treats out for the dead and placing candles in windows to light the way were the forerunners of our modern day trick-or-treat traditions. Over the years, levity has been injected into the holiday to make it less scary. Some pagans frown on this. I personally do not. There are still plenty of pagan overtones if you look for them, and even if you don't any well-meaning witch will be happy to educate you.
So enjoy the season and remember when you see that grinning jack-o-lantern that it may be lighting the way for someone you lost. So if you're out on Halloween night and feel something brush up against your arm, it may not be your imagination. It may just be someone you lost using this one night to tug your sleeve and say, "Hello."