Samhain (SOW en or SAH wen) is possibly one of the most well known of Pagan holidays. It marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of the winter season for those of us in temperate regions. The date of the festival is about as widely variable as the focus of the festivities and differs by tradition.

Many choose to celebrate Samhain on October 31st instead of or as adjunct to their Halloween celebrations, while many celebrate November 1st instead, considering Halloween the "night before" activities suggested by the holiday's own name (from Hallows Evening). November 2nd is also a favorite fixed date for the festival. Officially, Samhain falls at the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, so it can vary by a few days each year. Some witches celebrate Samhain on the New Moon in October or November, some on the Full Moon. Many witches choose to simplify their lives and celebrate Samhain on the first weekend after Halloween. There are good reasons for any date you choose. Choose the one that best suits your life and beliefs and doesn't drive you crazy.

I personally celebrate Samhain on the first Saturday after Halloween and my Samhain is pretty strictly a Feast of the Dead with honor also to Hecate, Persephone and Hades. We prepare those favorite meals of our beloved dead and tell stories and look at photos. Because we are also farmers, we butcher a lot of our meat around this time as well. Some of this will end up on the bonfire in the evening, the "last fruits" offering to our land spirits.

There are many traditions associated with Samhain. Here is a listing of many, though I'm not sure it's all. Choose one or two to do with your family and do not feel like you need to do them all. If you have an additional Samhain tradition, please add it in the comments section below.

The Masquerade and the Witches Ball

Many Pagan communities choose Samhain to get together and let loose. Witches Balls are held in nearly every community of any size in the months of October and November and many of them are masquerade balls. These are often the largest Pagan social gathering of the year in any particular area. There might be one near you and it's worth looking on witchvox.com or just Googling "Witches Ball [your state]" to find out if you've got one already. If not, get some Witches together and plan one. Don't know any witches? Look on Witchvox.com for that too.

Honoring the Dead

This is a good time to work with your ancestors, to work on your family tree and to get out pictures of your beloved dead and sit around telling stories about them. Visit their graves and bring flowers, a thermos of coffee or a bottle of wine and a few and a favorite snack and have a graveside heart to heart. Honor them at home: You can set up an altar to them, or set a place for them at the table. Prepare their favorite foods, or soul cakes or pan de muertos, as suits you, and them, best.

You may also wish to honor people who are part of the larger community, influential people who have died in the past year. Witchipedia puts together a Litany of the Dead each year. This year's may be found at http://www.witchipedia.com/news:litany-of-the-dead-2016

The Final Harvest

The final harvest is the meat harvest. The growing season is over and livstock must rely now upon hay stored away in the barn. Only the best will be kept over the winter and fed on these valuable stores. The rest are butchered and preserved to feed humans (and maybe dogs and cats) over the winter. Samhain is the time to make the hard decision of which animal are kept and which are eaten. It is also hunting season.

If you aren't a hunter or a farmer, you can bring this tradition into your home by allowing it to reflect in your menu and by taking a moment to remember all of the animals whose lives were taken to feed human bellies.

Symbolically, you may wish to think about what you wish to cull from your life, and what you wish to nurture.

Talk to the Dead

This is a popular time of year for seances, spirit boards and other forms of communication with the dead. The veil is the thinnest now and your chances for success are the highest. Use due caution, of course.

Divination

All sorts of divination are said to work best at this time of year.

The Witches New Year

For many traditions, this marks the end of the year and the night is celebrated accordingly. You may wish to do a ritual to let go of last year's garbage to make way for the new year's blessings or you may wish to make some New Year's resolutions. If this feels like New Year to you, celebrate it.

Bonfires

Bonfires were a big part of the ancient festival and can be part of yours too. The ancients built multiple fires and drove the animals through to bless them. Fire from the balefire can be used to light a smudge to bless your home, your friends, your car, etc. It also serves as a meeting place to sit around with your friends at the end of a day of celebration, eating snacks and telling stories.

Storytelling

Storytelling has always been an important part of any gathering. For Samhain, the stories can be those of your ancestors, funny stories about people you loved who recently passed, or stories about your underworld Gods and ancient heroes who tangled with them. This is the best way to pass on our traditions to our children.

The God and The Goddess

For Wiccans and similar traditions, the night of Samhain marks another turn in their allegory of the Mother Goddess and the dying God, the Goddess is in her Crone aspect at this time. The God is dead and resides in the Underworld, perhaps he is descending there now.

If you do not follow the Wheel of the Year allegory, perhaps now is a good time to do a ritual in honor of the Gods who rule the Underworld or guide the Dead in the Pantheon you honor.

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