Remembering our loved ones at Halloween

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Lauren Cuckow, a counsellor at St Catherine’s Hospice, talks in this blog about how we can remember our loved ones this Halloween

On a dark evening on the last day of October, the Celtic year comes to an end with the ancient festival of Samhain.  This is thought to be one of the most sacred festivals of the year, and also marks the end of autumn.  The final crops, fruit and nuts of harvest are in, and the cold and dark of winter can be felt in the air. Traditional celebrations were deeply rooted in nature, honouring the seasons and the cycles of life.

This ancient festival was also an opportunity for people to reconnect with ancestors, honour their elders, and remember the dead with gratitude and respect. The themes of these rituals still resonate deeply with us today. We’re drawn instinctively to remembering loved ones who have died, to honouring them individually and in community.

Samhain was marked by a great fire ritual, thought to help the living reconnect with their loved ones in the spirit world, the smoke cleansing and purifying the connection, and the light of the flames guiding souls home, allowing everyone to make peace with what had passed between relatives. Torches from the great fire were lit and carried around fields to protect them and honour the crops. And candles lit from the fire were placed in homes to bless relatives just as we continue to do today. Candles remain an important part of remembrance. They call light into difficult times, for comfort and a sense of connection, to something more than ourselves.

The Christian celebration of All Hallows (All Saints) was moved to 1 November in 835 by Pope Gregory, merging two important festivals and creating the Halloween (Hallows’ Eve) festival we know today. Halloween costumes originate from the tradition of Guising, dressing up possibly to avoid or trick certain spirits. Trick or Treating links back to Souling, visiting houses and singing in return for soul cakes and a promise to pray for the souls of the givers.

So Halloween is a perfect time to honour and celebrate the legacies of our loved ones. To remember their challenges and their achievements, and the quirky traits that made them human and precious to us. It’s a time to reflect on the seeds they sowed in our hearts and what we’re growing in our lives thanks to them.

Modern games and food also have their origins in spiritual rituals. These include apple bobbing and roasting hazelnuts. In Celtic mythology, apples were linked with healing the heart and immortality. And hazelnuts with spiritual wisdom. Divination was a common art form; smoke and ash were used to understand what the New Year could bring.

There are many ways you can connect to family and friends who’ve died during this time. You could:

  • Light candles and share memories
  • Make their favourite meal and mark a place at the table for them
  • Gather gifts from nature and place them around their photo to honour the cycle of life
  • Plant bulbs to represent the seeds of life they gave you
  • Or simply sit quietly and be with them again for a short while.

How will you be remembering your loved one this Halloween?