The word Samhain (pronounced "sow-en") comes from the Gaelic "Samhuin". Samhain actually refers to the daylight portion of the holiday, on November 1st. You may have grown up celebrating Halloween at this time of year. This is why: By the beginning of the 8th century, the Catholic church decided to celebrate All Saints Day on November 1st. The mass which was said on All Saints Day was called Allhallowmass - the mass of all those who are hallowed. The night before All Saints Day (or All Souls Day) naturally became known as "All Hallows Eve", and eventually morphed into what we call "Halloween".
Samhain is a celebration of the time of year where the veil between this world and the spirit world is at its thinnest. It's a time to respect our ancestors that have left before us to travel to the spirit world.
Many cultures celebrate similar holidays during this time of year; Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico and Ayamarka in Peru to name a couple.
Samhain begins at sundown on October 31st. There are several ways to celebrate Samhain. It is customary to light a candle for the "new year" as well as putting candles in your windows to guide spirits to your home. Many people leave out a "Feast of the Dead" so that the travelling spirits may favor them in the coming year. Most feasts consist of milk and cakes which they leave outside their door. Also, you can place a spot on your dinner table on Samhain Eve. Some witches use a chant at the beginning of their feast to welcome their ancestors. An example of a chant goes like this:
And so it is, we gather again,
The feast of our dead to begin.
Our Ancients, our Ancestors we invite, Come!
And follow the setting of the sun.
(Name your ancestor that you want to welcome.)
Where ever the country, where ever the land
They leave us not, to travel alone;
Flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone!
Past ones and present-at this very hour!
Feast here with us and rest here within
Our hearth is your hearth and welcome to thee;
Old tales to tell and new visions to see!
Most people serve vegetables of the late harvest season for their feast, especially the ones that grow under the ground. Include Autumn squashes, pumpkins, turnips, onions, potatoes and carrots. Talk to your deceased friends and family as if they were there...because they are. Bobbing for apples is also a great tradition for Samhain. The water represents the Cauldron of Regeneration, in which ancient pagans were baptized while blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs. You can also practice divination to receive messages from the spirit world. You can even participate in a seance if you wish. Just remember to have someone experienced in performing seances there so you will be prepared for any negative forces that try to ruin the night. Seances are not for playing around.
Whatever you do to honor this very special Sabbat, remember to do it safely. The veil is thin. Remember that.