If you haven’t read my introduction post to this Autumn Holiday series, then please go back and read it before continuing. That way you’ll be up to speed on why I’m writing about this. Our family greatly misunderstood a lot of holidays, because we were led to believe exactly what we were told by a pastor. In all the years we blindly believed him he would say, “Don’t believe me, go look for yourself”. So when we finally did we were quite surprised to find out he was misinformed and thus misinforming everyone else.
It was through our faith in Christ that we had the confidence to seek out people who actually believe certain things so we could know first hand. It was during our investigating of ancient cultures and our study of our own historical heritage that we finally discovered what Samhain really is. Samhain (pronounced sow-in) is an ancient observance that takes place between October 31st and November 1st. If your ancestors were not of the official Jewish lineage, then chances are your ancestors celebrated Samhain. This means that our ancestors were pagans. Today’s pagans may describe themselves as neopagans. Samhain has been celebrated by an array of nations during the time of Harvest in different ways. As with most other Autumn festivals around the world, foods eaten were created from what the earth had brought forth during the harvest.
photo credit ladybird.ladybird
There are various ways to celebrate Samhain and some people choose to incorporate their region’s traditions into their celebrations. Pagans from Ireland will have differing traditions from those of Germany. So this short article about Samhain is really just a description of the framework of their holiday.
It is believed that Samhain is the time of year when the dimension between this life and the next is at it’s thinnest and most optimal time for communication with those on opposite sides. Therefore, those on this side of life take the time to honor those who have departed by putting out a plate of food for them during their feast. This is like a memorial day for those who celebrate Samhain and is their most important holiday of the year. It’s their ‘new year’ celebration as well and is revered as sacred. The amount of devotion that goes into it’s observance is like the amount of devotion many Christians put into Christmas.
Some Christians are annoyed with how commercialized Christmas has become and you can say the same thing about how commercialized Samhain has become with the ghoulish stores that appear on many corners in the United States. Halloween is not an accurate depiction of what Samhain really is. In my opinion, Samhain has been hijacked by the commercial market and amplified through Hollywood and turned into what we have today called, Halloween.
photo credit Hlkolaya
Over the last several years in the USA, we have seen more tolerance of various religious traditions and I’m truly thankful for that. It’s become more common to see Kwanzaa and Hannakuh celebrated in children’s cartoons and books, and the commercial market offers more decor for these holidays. Sadly, we don’t see Samhain decorations being offered. When I search Amazon for books about Samhain, all I get are either scary books or cultural books about the modern children’s version of Halloween. As Christians, we know how frustrating it can be to find limited resources about Christ at Christmas and we see the increase of Santa and Frosty the snowman. So imagine how our neopagan neighbors feel when they can’t find Samhain in their local marketplaces. By the way, we really don’t have much to complain about. Local bookstores all over the nation carry Christian children’s books in the secular children’s section during Christmas and Easter.
Samhain is not the same as Halloween and I’ll go over Halloween in this series, but let me assure you again; Samhain is not the same as Halloween. Contrary to popular belief, Halloween does not adopt much of anything from Samhain.
We live in a multi-cultural society and I think we have done a great disservice to this nation by engaging in battles about whose holiday is more accurate or more American in nature. Although I have my own ways of celebrating the seasons within my Christian faith, I also recognize and respect our fellow Americans who celebrate differently. In fact, I am fascinated by their customs, beliefs, and traditions and have learned a lot about others by understanding their holidays. I have learned they have unique spiritual paths, love for family and others, and respect for their ancestors.
photo credit Greg Harder
Through my discoveries I have come to be saddened by the amount of persistence that many of our Christian brethren put forth in order to squash the beliefs and heritage of our fellow Americans. Here’s where I believe Christians become confused on how to show Christian hospitality to their neighbors of diverse faiths. It has been a traditional teaching to obliterate the beliefs of others and pressure them to choose to follow Christ. When we look through history we can clearly see that forced conversion is not a genuine choice to follow Christ. So in order to extend grace, we need to understand evangelism. Proclaiming the Good News (Gospel), is simply declaring that Christ came to reconcile mankind to God. Forcing people to give up their traditions and beliefs in order to adopt this belief is unkind and totally lacking grace. God gives people the choice to decide for themselves. Therefore, be kind and gracious when people choose not to believe the story of Christ.
In the meantime, respect the diversity that our free nation gives to us. Christ said to love others as we love ourselves. If at any time our neighbors decide to choose Christ let it be due to our hospitality, kindness, and respect for their choices. If we don’t want to be bullied out of our beliefs, then we should not bully others out of theirs. We don’t have to adopt their customs, but we should be respectful of their choices and not belittle them for what they have chosen to follow.
photo credit oranmor
Samhain is a time of honor and respect for family and departed loved ones. It’s a time of gratitude for the harvest the earth has brought forth. It’s a spiritual time to communicate love, appreciation, and reverence for wise ones and to seek spiritual guidance for the future. As much as you may disagree with their beliefs and practices it doesn’t give you the right to profane them and attempt to abolish or prohibit them from continuing what they do. Some Christian churches have a tradition called, ‘Heaven Night’ when they take time to remember departed loved ones by hanging their pictures along the sanctuary walls or in their hallways and each member stands and shares a little about them.
Learning that neopagans follow a path of reverence, love, gratitude, and appreciation for others and for those that have gone on before them opens my eyes to see that they are not evil people seeking to destroy our walk with Christ. Mutual respect for each other’s beliefs and observances can do a great deal of good in bringing peace to our nation.
In the next article I will discuss the holiday of All Saints Day, then after that we will explore Halloween. If you celebrate Samhain and I left something out or didn’t explain something quite right, feel free to comment.