November 1 is the Celtic feast of Samhain. Samhain, Gaelic for “summer’s end,” was the most important of the ancient Celtic feasts.
The Celts honored the intertwining forces of existence: darkness and light, night and day, cold and heat, death and life. Celtic knotwork represents this intertwining. The Celts observed time as proceeding from darkness to light. The Celtic day began at dusk, the beginning of the dark and cold night, and ended the following dusk, the end of a day of light and warmth. The Celtic year began with An Geamhradh, the dark Celtic winter, and ended with Am Foghar, the Celtic harvest. Samhain marks the beginning of both An Geamhradh and the new Celtic year.
Samhain and the new Celtic year actually begin at dusk on October 31, the beginning of the Celtic day. Oidhche Shamhna, the Eve of Samhain, was the most important part of Samhain. Villagers gathered the best of the autumn harvest and slaughtered cattle for the feast. The focus of each village’s festivities was a great bonfire. Villagers cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. (Our word bonfire comes from these “bone fires.”) With the great bonfire roaring, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly lit their hearth from the one great common flame, bonding all families of the village together.
The Celtic New Year starts at 5:00pm today on the West Coast of the U.S. with the sunset. My favorite time of year in SoCal starts about now and runs until mid-April with rain, cool weather, and the return of the northern birds (juncos, warblers, and the white crowned sparrows). Happy New Year.