For many, when they talk about the holidays, chances are they’re focusing on the traditional trio—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. But for me the holiday season begins in September with the Autumn Equinox and lasts until February (Imbolc). Once Imbolc is celebrated, that gives us a month to pack up the winter decorations and focus on the promise of life with coming Spring.
Being Pagan gives me reason to celebrate Life all year ’round really (ask me about The Wheel of the Year), but the most special time for me is the Autumn and Winter holidays.
The Autumn Equinox marks the beginning of the dark part of the year, where we begin winterizing our lives. We harvest the last crops from our gardens, put the outdoor furniture away, prep the house by getting the furnace checked and ordering heating oil, pull out our warmer clothes, and… decorate for the first part of the season!
The week following the Equinox we usually decorate outside. We pack away our wind chimes and garden gnomes and replace them with ghosts, witches, skeletons and spiders.
Come the first week of October we turn indoors. We aren’t really into gory Halloween decorations that many people love to display this time of year. We collect witch figurines, skeletons, crows, pumpkins. And while our crows stay out year long, this is when we pull out the fun stuff.
While we decorate for Halloween, the actual holiday we celebrate is Samhain (pronounced SOW when). This is a time to honor and acknowledge the loved ones we’ve lost, our blood ancestors, those who lived on the land we now live on, and our spiritual heritage.
We honor them with an Ancestors Altar that stays up all year round, but this time of year we spruce it up a bit, by adding mementos, more photos, and more candles. This year we will pay special tribute to my mother-in-law, Lauretta Phillips, who passed in January.
We also host something called a Dumb Supper. This is a beautiful and moving tribute to those who have passed on. Our Dumb Suppers’ past have included as many as 20-25 people. The 2019 Supper was a bit smaller. We did not host one during the pandemic in 2020, but we plan to host a very small, more intimate event this year.
The way a Dumb Supper works is pretty simple. Everyone attending brings a dish, dessert, or drink to pass that is connected to the loved one they are honoring. They also bring a photo or memento to place on the Ancestors Altar.
The event is lit only by candlelight (black candles preferably). The table is decorated (ideally) in all black. Black tablecloths, napkins, plates, eating utensils, glasses – as much as possible. Over the years, I’ve collected the dinnerware, utensils, cloth napkins and tablecloths, but in the beginning I used paper products which you can pick up at any party supply store, especially this time of year.
The shared fare brought by everyone is set up in the kitchen- buffet-style. Everyone describes the dish they brought, how it is connected to their loved one, who they are honoring. We share a memory or story about each of our loved ones we are memorializing. Then, we hold a drawing to determine who will have the honor of filling the Ancestors’ plate, which is then set at the head of the table. (I call it the Dead Head of the table.) Once the Ancestors have been “Served,” everyone fills their plate, taking a little bit of each dish shared. We then retire to the dining room where we eat in complete silence—not even whispers are allowed.
The mealtime is used to memorialize internally our loved ones, recall memories, maybe be open to receiving a message they may wish to share with us. I provide paper and pens for everyone so that they can jot notes. I’ve had conversations with loved ones, been inspired to write poetry, and sometimes
I’ve just spent the time remembering them and the good times. People are welcome to share what they experienced once the meal is over, but no one is required to share anything if they so choose.
If, after reading this, you’d like to try to host a Dumb Supper and you have questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brooke Meadows, my heroine from LOVE IN THE FOREST, also loves this time of year! If you haven’t met her yet, you might want to pick up LOVE IN THE FOREST: Book 1 of the Earth and Sky Series.
LIFE IS FOR LIVING is Book 2 and there you get to celebrate the Autumn Equinox with the whole Earth
and Sky gang. That’s expected out in 2022.
Stay tuned for more holiday posts. Feel free to comment below on how you celebrate the season. Or find me on Facebook and share your experiences there!
In the meantime, enjoy the foliage, the apple and pumpkin harvest, and use these cooler temps to spend time snuggling up with your loved one (or one of my books)!