Lately I have been exploring more ancient practices like Wicca and also investigating the reason we celebrate certain times of the year.
Many celebrations in the West appear to revolve around Christianity, yet mask many ancient Pagan holidays that have been going a lot longer and then of course I was pondering New Year.
Since connecting more with the seasons and flowing with nature lately I am performing rituals and celebrations around the Moon cycle (connecting with the Goddess within) and the Pagan Sabbats*.
An upcoming Sabbat is that of Samhain (often known in the West as Halloween). In Pagan traditions Samhain is New Year’s Eve and makes a lot more sense than the reasons behind the December 31st / 1st January New Year.Samhain according to the book ‘The Wiccan Way – A Path To Spirituality; Self- Development’ by Sally Morningstar states:
“Samhain is the festival of remembering the ancestors, marking the end of the Celtic year and the dawning of the new year, and honours the last of the harvest festivals for the year just passing. The crops are in and the days become ever shorter and darker. Since this night ( October 31) rests on the threshold between the old and new year, it is considered to reside between the worlds. Thus, the veils that seperate spirit from matter are thinner and more easily crossed than at other times of year. This is an ideal night for divination as well as for remembrance.”
To me this feels a more fitting dawn of a new year than the historic reason for the origin of our New Year. According to simpletoremember.com :
“In 46 B.C.E. the Roman emperor Julius Caesar first established January 1 as New Year’s day. Janus was the Roman god of doors and gates, and had two faces, one looking forward and one back. Caesar felt that the month named after this god (“January”) would be the appropriate “door” to the year. Caesar celebrated the first January 1 New Year by ordering the violent routing of revolutionary Jewish forces in the Galilee. Eyewitnesses say blood flowed in the streets. In later years, Roman pagans observed the New Year by engaging in drunken orgies—a ritual they believed constituted a personal re-enacting of the chaotic world that existed before the cosmos was ordered by the gods…”
So it began with violent routing. This does make me wonder why on earth we celebrate the above date?
It was later changed to March the 25th (see link for further info.) and then back to January 1st. Of course we cannot know for sure what happened in history, but if it is true I am going to celebrate New Years eve on October 31st – Samhain (Halloween).
And before I get on my soapbox about Halloween, what about the Chinese New Year? This is on February the 12th and is such an old tradition it is too old to be traced. Often seen as the spring festival it is deeply symbolic and spiritual (unlike our traditional Western version) and involves buying presents, decorating homes and prior to the New Year the Chinese clean their homes from top to bottom, clearing out bad energy so that only prosperity and good luck comes in for the New Year. They paint doors red and eat foods that symbolise prosperity, happiness and good luck. The host normally wears red. And like the West the sky is lit up by fireworks.
In addition (I love this idea!) they:
On the day itself, an ancient custom called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. This involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes. Then the family begins to say greetings from door to door, first to their relatives and then their neighbours. Like the Western saying “let bygones be bygones,” at Chinese New Year, grudges are very easily cast aside. The end of the New Year is marked by the Festival of Lanterns, which is a celebration with singing, dancing and lantern shows. (Chinese New Year – History)
And back to the concept of ‘Halloween’. No-one really knows the origin of Halloween. It happens to be on the eve of a major Catholic festival All Saints (used to be known as ‘all hallows’ – hallow being an old word meaning Saint). Halloween in England was also known as mischief night. And of course this ties in with the ancient Pagan Sabbat of Samhain. Some say it is to do with the festival of the dead. However, neither the word Halloween or the date the 31st of October are mentioned in any anglo-saxon text which possibly indicates it was just an ‘ordinary’ day a thousand years ago.
What Are You Celebrating At Halloween?
So religious and Pagan beliefs inter-twined together mark this day in a rather confusing way. I would say many people do not even know what they are celebrating at Halloween. For example today I was in a shop making a purchase and saw all the plastic commercialism of this Halloween event celebrated in the UK. It has become more commercial as the celebrations in America cross the pond. People buy plastic lanterns, plastic skeletons, plastic webs with spiders. masks, costumes, and to most people it’s a bit of fun. Children go trick-or-treating, dress up and go begging for sugary substances or more recently money (smile – yes I said begging – that’s what they do).
The symbology of the objects people make and use during this time may symbolise the following (of which I knew nothing of as a child – and neither did my parents).
- Jack-O-Lantern (carving turnips) – apparently a souling custom which was a way of remembering souls trapped in purgatory. Pumpkins were brought in to celebrate the end of the harvest but not related to the Halloween date until the late 19th century.
- Trick-or-treating is similar to the medieval practice of souling where the poor would go door to door on November 1st, begging for food in exchange for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2nd).
And so it appears so many traditions, so many customs, so many reasons, so much information blurs the lines between what is real and what is not. It makes me realise how important it is for me to follow my intuition as it makes more sense than anything. And to follow the seasons of the planet makes more sense to me also. Take away all the blurring of lines between traditions and you are left with an inner celebration of whatever feels right for you.
Do you celebrate the new year with family and friends? And what time of year do you celebrate? Do you do it on a different date? What do you celebrate?
*Sabbat is a one of eight Pagan holidays celebrating particular seasonal changes throughout the year and the God/Goddess related to that Sabbat.
My recent video discussing Halloween: