It can be really hard to juggle secular and religious holiday traditions especially when you’re trying to manage Halloween parties, costume changes, managing candy for kids, and dumb suppers for ancestors, taking the time to give offerings, make treats, and if you’re lucky, sneaking in a visit to a local cemetery. Then there’s the decorating: do you delve into the gory glory of pumpkin guts and witches with broomsticks, or do you focus on putting up elaborate ancestors altars?
In my house it’s been a balancing act for years, so I thought I’d share the schedule that I’ve evolved to survive some of my families favorite holidays:
August – September:
We work on developing costume and decorating ideas. Pinterest is our friend. We gather materials and plot. Most of this plotting is Halloween centric.
October 1st Halloween Season Begins!
I decorate the house in all the boxes of tchokes, skulls, purple witches, pumpkins, zombies and fake blood can all be involved. We take the kids to things like Boo at the Zoo and host our annual Halloween Party for adults, the weekend before the 31st. I don’t worry too much about the ancestors at this point, because I know that they will get their time in the sun, or the shade…. Whichever they prefer.
This is the switchover point. We have one last bonanza of Halloween themed fun with trick or treating awesomeness. A note to those with young children, especially those with kids who have food allergies: For years I would put together a Halloween basket for my kids, much like an Easter basket, packed with healthier treats, themed stickers, and a book or a doll and then trade my kids for most of their hard won candy. It was a great way to make everyone happy on one of the big sugary holidays.
November 1st :
I pull down most of the Halloween decorations the first week of November, and start pulling out the family photos. We pick a desk or table top to build our ancestors altar. (And this is where we do things a little different than ordinary, but it works so well!) This ancestors altar stays up until Thanksgiving.
November 1st– Thanksgiving:
We give offerings at our ancestors altar, usually coffee in the morning and then a bit of dinner as well. We light candles at our altar, and talk about family history with the kids. I try and take the kids to the local cemetery at least once during this time. When I’m really on my game we take flowers we’ve grown in our garden to give as offerings. Another idea: leaving candy from Trick-or-Treating at gravestones is a great offering too. Sugar is often appreciated by the departed, plus it does double duty by downsizing child hoards of high fructose corn syrup.
We always light up our ancestors altar brightly this night and it’s worked out so well. Thanksgiving is a holiday about remembering the past and being grateful for the present. We often also honor the indigenous ancestors of the land, and have had many productive conversations about the history of this country and how we as Euro-Americans can do better. This is something that has developed over time and has resulted in things like my eldest writing a letter to her congressperson about Columbus Day. If you tell your kids about smallpox, be prepared for their horror. Ancestors aren’t always great and sometimes it’s about doing better than they did.
After Thanksgiving we start breaking out the Yule decorations. Sometimes we leave the ancestors altar up and sometimes we take it down, depending on how much space there is amongst Odin Claus and the Yule Tree. I know those who are heathen often celebrate Mother’s Night on the Solstice, so if that’s your persuasion I would suggest leaving the ancestor’s altar up until then.
Surviving the Season:
I have said for many years that as a pagan my holiday season starts in October, with the number of social engagements, rituals, and parties skyrocketing right through until January. It’s important to remember to take time to slow down, especially if you are deeply tied into the cycles of the seasons. Here in the Northern Hemisphere the veil is thinning and the days are shortening. This year I’m hoping to take my kids (who are older now) out to view the stars, which is easier since they obligingly come out so much sooner. Take some time to breathe and feel the slowness of the land as She settles down for her winter sleep. There’s always work to be done and part of that work is caring for yourself.
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