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Samhain at Anō Anō

Samhain blessings everyone. And for those who don't know what Samhain (pronounced 'sow-inn') is, it's what Halloween was for those of us of European descent back in the good old days. The third and final harvest festival celebrated by the ancient Celts, it is a time of remembering ancestors, sharing food and company with each other and the spirits of those gone, and of welcoming the approaching winter. A halfway point between the Autumn Equinox, and Winter Solstice, in the southern hemisphere its celebrated around the beginning of May.

What does an ancient Celtic festival have to do with Autumn in Aotearoa, you may ask? Well, in my humble opinion, three things.

  1. An antidote to capitalism & consumerism. Unlike modern Halloween in October, Samhain isn't asking you to buy things, but rather, to look towards community, remembrance, and gratitude.

  2. Nature connection. In a world where screens hold our attention, supermarkets have all the food we need, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety grow ever more common, seasonal celebrations like Samhain ask us to head outside. To play, to notice what's growing and dying, and to actively participate in community.

  3. Belonging. For people of European descent in particular, our seasonal celebrations didn't board the ships our ancestors immigrated on. I believe if we reconnect with the cultural practices of our indigenous ancestors, we'll find a way to connect to this land - a way that's better than what colonisation has taught us, and is rooted in reciprocity and belonging.

So, in sharing its importance, here is my account of the Samhain magic we created together at Anō Anō. It was simple, open to everyone, and playful - made for kids (of all ages).

First we sat in a circle and talked about what was happening outside & our favourite things about Autumn. The kids really excitedly talked about all the different leaf colours, and how scary the branches looked, like tree skeletons, with spiky fingers! They shared how everything is dying and it’s quite ghosty outside! The adults favourite things were anything from persimmons, to hot chocolates & campfires, to crisp evenings when you know there's a good book and a warm blanket inside.

We all knew the plan was to head outside for an Autumn adventure, and I mentioned that since it’s quite scary and ghosty outside, howling winds, and howling wolves (aka Kaitaia's troupe of stray pups!) too - we’d better protect ourselves before we head out on our adventure. The kids all agreed, and I told them the two ways I had ready for them to protect themselves.

  1. I could paint their faces for them, as something spooky or maybe an animal, so that anything ghosty out there would think they were just another spooky creature or wild animal (did you know that this is how the tradition of dressing up for Halloween started?!)

  2. They could choose a card from a special deck of animal guardians, and whichever animal they picked would live in their heart, and protect them whenever they needed help.

All of the kids (and most of the adults) chose to go for both, and most of the kids wanted facepaint to match the animal card they drew! We had a bear, a hind, a bee, a kōtare, a parrot, and the adults were anything from persimmons to nature spirits to fire birds. I was a pumpkin.

Then, we made wreathes from fruit tree prunings and willow shoots, and ventured out on our adventure to make autumn crowns!

There were impromptu games, chases, flying broomsticks and exploring.

We found lots of different autumn leaves in the park down by the pump track and old pool, as well as branches that looked like antlers, and fallen palm tree seed pods that looked like a giant long old man’s beard! It was so fun exploring, noticing baby oak trees, and guessing which leaves, seeds, and pods had come from which trees.

Of course we had to sweep all of the autumn leaves into a big pile and jump into it.

Which led to leaf fights, leaf basketball tag where the person holding the antler branch was a running, moving hoop.

And of course, autumn leaf angels! (which looked more like leaf skulls than angels!)

Once we were all thoroughly exhilarated, exhausted, and thirsty, we went back to Anō Anō to wind down and have refreshments.

Shona had hot spiced apple juice brewing, so we sipped away while digging into homemade snickerdoodle cookies. Then, I lit some candles on the table, Kayami turned off the lights, and we spent the rest of the evening telling scary stories. Three of the kids, and Anna and I had a go telling them, and everyone had a great time listening and thinking up creative scary stories over their snacks.

Before going home, we shared some of our favourite things from the evening. The kids loved the leaf games, the storytelling, the candles, the spookiness, their animal guardians, broomstick chases, and the cookies! The adults mostly loved the warm spiced apple juice, the magic of the darkness and candlelight, and that their kids were having such a special & fun experience. We finished with a song, and a big round of applause!

If you're curious about these seasonal celebrations, or would like to create something similar in your community, leave your details with the Kaitaia EcoCentre, Anō Anō (adressed to Merryn), or email Samhain Blessings everyone!

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