Many years ago, I went with some members of my Irish language class to an apartment in Manhattan for a party on October 31st. The host opened the door and said something in Gaelic, and then repeated a welcome in English – “Happy New Year!” Samhain, (pronouned sow-en) is the Celtic New Year.
The Celtic year cycle begins with Samhain, the “Summer’s End.” The Celts reckoned their days and years from the onset of darkness at dusk and autumn. On the eve of Samhain, a veil between the worlds parts, allowing communication with ancestors and the spirit world.
This was the one night when the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living to celebrate with their family, tribe or clan. In ancient times in Ireland, the great burial mounds were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set up for any who died that year.
Spirits are free to walk abroad this night, too. People lit bonfires on hilltops on this night of supernatural power; danced and leaped over the blaze making wishes for the coming year, and tossed hazelnuts into the embers to divine future events.
To all – Happy New Year.