This year we have begun celebrating festivals with the cyclic flow of the seasons. So, being in the Southern hemisphere, we have just celebrated Halloween or as the pagan festival is called, Samhain. And it felt so much more natural to be lighting a jack-o-lantern in Autumn! Here in Australia, as far as I am aware, Halloween is celebrated by most people at the end of October, like those in the northern hemisphere, but October here is Spring! It does seem very strange and means that the price of pumpkins for a Jack-o-lantern is huge!
I wanted to share how we celebrated Samhain with our children. I began the day how we usually start a regular homeschooling day. We say a good morning verse, which at the moment is,
“Good morning dear earth, good morning dear sun,
good morning dear trees, and dear flowers everyone.
Good morning dear beasts, and dear birds in the trees,
good morning to you, and good morning to me.”
I then read a poem that I had been reading to the children for a few days leading up to Samhain, it is from A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme,
Poem for Halloween
“Halloween lanterns swinging soft and slow,
Halloween lanterns filled with candle glow,
gently shining candles, cupped in caves of rosy snow.
Vegetable faces in a flickering fire,
shimmer on the darkness sway and pause awhile,
on each brow a brightness and a star behind each smile.”
After this I read the story of Vasalissa to the children and we sang the song ‘Crimson Leaves in Autumn’. The day before we had visited the Hobart Botanical Gardens, which is something we do every year in Autumn, and I had collected an assortment of colourful Autumn leaves to decorate our nature table and dinner table.
After we’d sung we got all the leaves out and adorned our nature table, leaving the rest for when we were getting ready for our feast. A craft that I chose to do with the children was making Halloween salt dough figures to put on our nature table. A few days before, I made the salt dough and we sat down and made our figures. Then I cooked them in a low oven until they were hard. We finished them off on Samhain by painting them with acrylic paints. I made a witch, black cat, pumpkin, and bat, Elki made a ghost, skull, dragon, ghost night, and wizard, and Anusha made an apple, pumpkin, black cat, and witches hat. I left them to dry outside throughout the morning while we did some other activities,
as the children got a bit carried away with the paints. (they ended up making some pretty awesome little paintings with their hand prints though!)
After we’d all cleaned up and had lunch we started on the cooking for our Halloween feast. One of the delights I decided to make was Bread of the Dead. I got the recipe from the book Circle Round, and apparently it is a traditional Mexican bread made for this festival. The children helped to make the dough which we left to rise whilst making another treat, our variation of a Honey Seed Cake. As we are vegan I altered the recipe to make an Agave Seed Cake,
1 ½ cups sesame seeds
2 “No eggs” or other egg replacer
2/3 cup vegetable or olive oil
¼ cup Agave or other liquid sweetener
½ Rapadura or brown sugar
1 ½ unbleached plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup Agave
3 Tbs vegan margarine
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan until golden. Blend together the No egg, oil, agave, and sugar. Add dry ingredients and stir in the sesame seeds. Pour this mixture into a shallow, greased baking pan and bake for about 15 minutes. Take out and pour over topping, and then replace in oven for about five minutes.
To make the topping bring to boil the agave and margarine.
I really enjoyed the seed cake, we served it as a dessert at our feast and the children also got some in their small basket of goodies for trick-or-treat. It has a delicious nutty flavour from the sesame seeds, mixed with the rich sweetness of agave. While the seed cake was cooking we shaped our bread dough that had now risen to about double it’s size. The children punched the air out (always a favourite thing to do) and we made two loaves. Anusha and I made a human figure to represent our ancestors, and Elki made a monster skull.
We left our loaves to rise again, and I put them in the oven later in the afternoon. Bread of the Dead is a slightly sweet, spiced bread, and has an orange glaze on top, the children loved it! During the rest of the afternoon Anusha helped her father make Root soup, which included parsnip, swede, potato, sweet potato, carrot, and barley, and carve out the Jack-o-lantern. Scott also made a pumpkin pie. I also helped the children get dressed up (very simply!). Elki basically wore the knight costume that I made for him last year except this year he was a ghost night, and we improvised with some of Anusha’s clothes, a play cloth, and a crown to transform her into a forest fairy. Anusha made me laugh with her imaginative take on her pink, grey and white striped leggings, which were the cobwebs and flowers of the forest of course!
And then we got the table ready for out feast!
Our Samhain Feast;
Toasted Sunflower and Pumpkin seeds
Root soup with bread
Bread of the Dead
Agave Seed Cake
At the start of our feast I prepared a plate of food for our ancestors and placed it on a small table next to our nature table with a candle. Then we sang our usual blessing, ‘Blessings on the Blossoms’. We actually didn’t end up having any pumpkin pie that night as we were so full from everything else, but we happily ate it over the next few days!
After dinner the children and I performed a Gate of the Seasons ritual for Samhain to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new. At this time of year the earth is dying as it gets close to winter but we have hope for the new year to come. We then had our first pagan ritual to honour our ancestors and the Horned god. The horned god is the god honoured during Samhain as he is the god who represents animals that give up their lives to nourish others. As we are vegan I talked to the children about how we are always thankful for the plants that nourish us and keep us alive, for mother earth providing us with the plants, and for the people that help to grow and make the food that we eat. We also honoured mother earth or the goddess, who at this time of year is in her crone phase.
The purpose of our ritual was to thank and honour our ancestors. We welcomed our ancestors into our home and then Scott and I sat down with the children and showed them photos that we had of our ancestors, talking about who they were and anything that we knew about them. I had collected photos of our ancestors from mine and Scott’s parents a couple of years ago when I made a family tree with Elki. When we’d finished looking at the photos we blessed our ancestors as the children threw some pieces of bread into the fire, and then finished our ritual.
It was now getting later into the night. The children have a tradition where they trick-or-treat me on halloween. We had lanterns that we made for halloween in October last year, so the children went for a short lantern walk while I prepared a small basket of treats for them, including a slice of seed cake, a piece of the bread of the dead, and a chocolate bar that Scott had sneakily bought without them knowing. To finish up our Samhain I read the children a story written by Starhawk, from Circle round, called A Journey to the Shining Isle. It is a story about ancestors and Grandfather deer, and before the very tired and worn out little ones went to bed they left an apple for Grandfather deer out on the windowsill.
Halloween is not celebrated as much here as it is in the northern hemisphere but there is still a lot of commercialisation that goes along with it that to me seems even more inappropriate in Spring. I felt a lot more connected to this festival celebrating it in Autumn. The approaching winter has certainly set in with frosts, shorter days and colder nights. We now need to warm our home with a fire, and we are waking to chilled misty mornings. It was great to share with the children the fruits of the season in our warming root soup, pumpkin pie, and Jack-o-lantern, and to remind them of our ancestral family that gave us life.
I think the most important thing that I try to share and instil in the children through celebrating festivals is the cycle of life through the ever changing seasons, to be thankful of Earth and all her gifts, and to always appreciate our interconnectedness with Earth.
Next festival I am going to try and spread out our activities and preparations over the week before more so that our day of celebration is not so full. I think then we will not be so busy and we can fully appreciate the day.