Here in the Midwest it is hard to stray far from the cycles of the year. Each season brings vastly different weather cycles that are difficult to ignore. They affect our daily lives, but they are also emblematic of our culture and traditions. Our agrarian and hunter-gatherer roots are tied to the seasonal cycles of birth, growth, harvest and death. In current times we still hold true to these cycles. We plant in the spring, grow during the summer, harvest in the fall and rest in the winter.
Today is Halloween. Traditionally, Halloween is the last harvest festival. It is the time when the final produce is harvested from the fields and gardens and the livestock is culled to ensure the strongest animals make it through the coming winter. It is a time of feasting and ritual, a time of giving thanks and letting go.
In this sense, Halloween is a very old idea. Halloween falls halfway between the fall equinox and the winter solstice on the sun calendar and is thought by some to be the day when the veils between our world and the spirit world are thinnest. It is seen as a time of honoring the dead and of spiritual rebirth.
Growth and harvest, death and rebirth. It seems somehow appropriate for those of us in the northern climates, those of us at the mercy of our changing seasons, to acknowledge the roles these natural cycles play in our lives.
If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s the stability of Minnesota’s changing seasons. 2020 has been a year of instability and upheaval. Think of all the traditions and rituals that have been disrupted in our lives this year, upended by pandemic, economic hardship, illness, and the loss of social contact. We’ve lost graduations in the spring, the orderly return of students this fall, along with family events like the weddings and funerals which have been postponed, cancelled, or drastically changed in our effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Perhaps this is a perfect time to acknowledge these losses, as we continue the sacrifices we make to keep ourselves and our communities safer. Here we are at Halloween. The end of the harvest and — let’s face it — a difficult spring and summer. It’s a good time to reaffirm our resolve, and to honor the memories of loved ones no longer with us.
One way to honor our dead and our family ancestors might be to simply light a candle in remembrance of them. Surround your candle with photographs of those you wish to honor and remember, perhaps in beautiful frames. If you don’t have a photograph, you could place an object or memento that symbolizes your loved one.
When you’re ready, light the candle and think about that person. Maybe say the things you wanted to say, but never got the chance. Maybe share some news. If you’re doing this as a family group, or with friends, you can tell stories about your loved one and their presence that still lingers in your own life. When you’re finished, say goodbye and thank them for their presence in your life. Blow out the candle. As rituals of remembrance go, this one is a simple, concrete way of honoring those we miss.
Along with this time of remembrance, the longer nights offer the perfect opportunity for reflection. It’s the time of year to decide what we will bring with us into the new year and what we will let go. While goal setting and planning are usually reserved for the new year, I think the late fall is a time to figure out what you are going to let go. What emotional baggage can you do without in the coming year? Perhaps let go of anger or anxiety, perhaps let go of fear or sorrow, perhaps let go of a bad habit or misplaced feelings. This allows a good foundation to start the cycle of rebirth, goal setting, and planning for the new year.
If you’d like to try a ritual to focus your intent, try writing the thing you want to let go on a piece of paper and throwing it in to your Halloween recreational fire to symbolize the letting go. The paper burns, turns to smoke and dust, and takes the ill will with it.
You will find similarities in these two rituals with traditions across the globe, everything from the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations to the Halloween bonfire gatherings. The spiritual aspects of Halloween are symbolized with jack-o-lanterns used to light the way in the dark and late harvest decorations of gourds and hay bales. This year try adding some personal ritual to your Halloween celebrations and begin the winter season with renewed optimism and intent.
Happy Halloween everyone!