“Death is there to keep us honest, and constantly remind us we are free” – Dan Fogleberg
Some call it Halloween, some call it Samhain, but since this upcoming “Holiday” is about honoring the Ancestors, I like to use the Welsh name for it- Nos Calan Gaeaf, because I have a lot of Welsh Ancestors, and the Welsh culture is something I feel drawn to.
Broken down, Nos is “night”, Calan is “New Year” and Gaeaf is “Winter”,
All together it means the night before “Calan Gaeaf” or the the Night Before Winter New Year. In most traditional cultures, the New Year starts when the larders are full, harvest is in, life is bountiful and we are optimistic we will make it through the long winter ahead.
I am purposefully “anti” American Holidays, because they have been so corrupted and so co-opted by candy manufacturers and greeting card companies-capitalism. So I celebrate my heritage, my Ancestors, the harvest and the Seasons the way they did in the Traditional or Old Ways.
Many traditions widen this holiday time into a three day period of celebration or acknowledgement. October 31, November 1 and November 2 are common dates now in the tradition of Día de los Muertos which now coincides with the Western Christian triduum of Allhallowtide: All Saints’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day.
For myself, I celebrate-or rather prepare, celebrate and unwind from, on Oct. 29-Nov 2. I consider Oct 31 to be “the” Ysbridnos or Spirit Night-when the veil is thinnest and the spirits are close. The day on either side of Oct. 31 I use as “protection” days. I purposefully incorporate into my ritual on those days a requests for the healthy spirits to come visit, but for the ones who are not well to stay outside of my circle. I’ve learned to do this because I am sensitive and can get very overwhelmed by negative spirits if not careful.
I don’t have exact dates though, because you just have to feel it. Things just shift…like today.
I wasn’t planning on starting today, but this morning, after reading several other friends posts about their beginnings of festivities and cooking of amazing feasts, and finding myself in the kitchen making a giant batch of chicken stew (end of Harvest season canning project) I could feel as they say “the veil thinning” and something coming in….Like something wrapping a blanket, or arms, around me. And don’t take this in a morbid way. Too many people fear death in our culture. But it is a part of life. I take it as family, coming for a visit.
Two songs have been on repeat this morning in the kitchen- The Reach and Ghosts by Dan Fogleberg. The Reach I posted here as Song of the Day. It’s a song about Autumn on an island off the coast of Maine. Here it’s gloomy and rainy, but 65 degrees, but I’ve been staring out the window as I cut up carrots and potatoes, and like I frequently do when it’s gloomy, pretend it’s Scotland, where some of my ancestors come from. Since The Reach is about being on the ocean among the fisherman, I just pretend it’s Scotland.
Turning down the music to listen for a moment I could hear a murder of crows very close by, a not-frequent thing here, but another welcome sound indicating the veil is thinning. In folklore it is said that crows live in the void and have no sense of time-so I took that as my welcome to the Holiday.
And so there I was, cooking and pretending to look out on a stormy Scottish firth and thinking about my ancestors…I can feel them coming close. I think they like that I celebrate them and acknowledge their existence, and the more genealogy work I do, the more they all become real people.
Cooking onions in bacon fat to go into my soup, I teared up at the smell. Not because onions “make you cry” when you cut them, but because onions and bacon have a very deep memory connection to Thanksgiving mornings of my childhood, when my mother would make Prussian Kapusta (sauerkraut dish). We celebrated, not with family but with close friends and their family, so Thanksgiving memories are full of warmth and love and above all the smell of bacon and onions in Kapusta.
And for me, Calan Gaeaf is like Thanksgiving and New Years all rolled into one, because I do not celebrate Thanksgiving in November. To me, it falls into the same category as Columbus Day-an insult to my Native American Ancestors and a reminder of cultural genocide. So Calan Gaeaf IS my feast of gratitude and a time to honor my Ancestors rolled into one.
The song Ghosts just seemed to fit the day-a bit gloomy and spooky and a way to call in the Ancestors. This song has deep visual memories for me. It came out when I was 22 and had just moved to rural up-state New York. It was Fall when we arrived and I had grown up in a very different bio-region, so the trees turning color was astounding, and having reason to be driving down back roads at odd times of the day (late at night and early mornings) I had multiple opportunities to find myself in places that literally looked like they’d slipped out of time. Old buildings with a mill and stream, old cemeteries with mysterious headstones, and leaves so brilliant they shown in the dark…The video above shows the cover of the album, and that’s precisely the feeling that my entire six-month stay in New York has in my memory. Spooky…
But now, as I stand in my warm kitchen 33 years later, embraced by smells and sounds and spirits, this song feels strong…Maybe it’s just me-I have a strong connection with all of those “seen and unseen” parts of myself…so ghosts are no longer mysterious or spooky. They are people with stories and they are family….
Bendithion Calan Gaeaf pawb!
Blessed Calan Gaeaf everyone! /|\