At Samhain, the Wicca say farewell to the God even though he readies to be reborn at Yule. This grand sabbat, also known as Feast of the Dead, Feast of Apples, All Hallows, and of course Halloween, once marked the time of sacrifice. This was the time when animals were slaughtered to ensure food throughout the winter. The God fell as well to ensure our continuing existence. This is a time of reflection and coming to terms with the one thing in life which we have no control - death. Wiccans feel that on this night the separation between the physical and spiritual realities is it's least guarded and it's veil the thinnest. It is a somber holiday, one of dark clothes and thoughts for the dead, and a time of remembrance of our ancestors and all those who have gone before [link].
Samhain is a Gaelic harvest festival held on October 31–November 1. It was linked to festivals held around the same time in other Celtic cultures, and was popularised as the "Celtic New Year" beginning in the 18th century. Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half". It was traditionally celebrated over the course of several days. It has some elements of a festival of the dead. The Gaels believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain; because so many animals and plants were dying, it thus allowed the dead to reach back through the veil that separated them from the living. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames.(This site also has a lot of information if you're interested in reading some more)
In Scotland the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white. Samhnag — turnips which were hollowed-out and carved with faces to make lanterns — were also used to ward off harmful spirits [link].
Other traditions that have taken root in Samhain are All Saints Day (Nov 1) or All Souls Day/Day of the Dead, which celebrate or reverence those who have gone before. I felt like the idea of Samhain really incorporated all those Christian holidays and then some (with the harvest/sacrifice/thankfulness), and therefore opted to use both the traditional name and some of the older traditions in our celebration.
Samhain feasts traditionally include fresh meat (giving thanks for the harvest and the sacrifice of the animals to sustain us through the winter). Pork was common, or wild meat. Potatoes were also common as, of course, was pumpkin. (Ironically I was thinking 'last harvest festival' and didn't think about the hunting side of it, so I neglected to thaw out any of our frozen bear, and we had a vegetarian meal featuring pumpkin soup.)
I took an idea from the Mexican Day of the Dead and made little breads. I didn't make them with skull shapes--the bread rose slowly and I ended up rushing to try to get it cooked in time for dinner. So I just took a knife and poked in little people shapes in the top of each loaf.
|"Ancestor Bread" (something like the Mexican "pan de muertas" aka "dead bread")|
So this year's celebration was something less than stellar, but hey, there's always next year, right?!