Tomorrow night, 7th November I will celebrate the Samhain (sow-in) Fire festival with a group of friends. Historically it is the last harvest, a time when the animals were selected from the herds or flocks to be culled and the last of the berries would be plucked from the trees. All of which would provided food for the family over winter.
The word Samhain, as Gaeilge, means end of summer. It is the start of winter and of darkness, a time to remember those who have passed over. For them a place will be set at the table. The old stories will be told and new ones added as memories are revived about the various characters who have died. Sensitive people may feel a slight chill pass over their feet, leg or arm as an unseen visitor drops in and it is at this time of the year that some say the veil between the worlds is thin.
Many of us in Ireland have revised the dates on which we hold the Fire Festivals. For example : The date of Samhain is determined by the angle of Sun and is held at the mid point between an Equinox and a Solstice, thus it is not on the same date every year. In similar vein the date of the Solstices and Equinoxes vary too for all are connected to the Sun's position with the earth.
Into the chamber of The Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara in County Meath, pours the rising sun at Samhain - not on 31st October as many people believe. This act defines Tara as a Samhain site, just as Newgrange is a Winter Solstice site. The back walls of the chambers are illuminated by the rising sun and the very same thing occurs at other ancient sites on other festival dates around Ireland.
We do not see Samhain as being the start of another year. For us the Winter Solstice is more likely, for it can be seen as a double celebration, firstly of deep darkness which occurs when the sun appears to stand still - the actual meaning of the word solstice. And secondly as a celebration of the rebirth of the sun when daylight lengthens. This year Winter Solstice, the shortest day, is on 22nd December. The birth of the new sun will fall on 26th December for daylight has by then increased by 1minute!
One of the many local Samhain traditions is to have a bonfire at the crossroads in rural areas. This one was taken a couple of years ago.
Tomorrow, when we gather, we will remember our ancestors, our friends and the spirits of this land who gather about us.There will be storytelling, singing and we will have great craic around the bonfire (weather permitting!).