This Samhain (that’s the Gaelic word for Halloween) is a bit special for us. It’s not the first in our new home but it is the first that will be fully celebrated. Last year’s Samhain passed us by a bit in a blur of moving house and exhaustion. Not so this year.
In the old traditions this festival celebrates the end of the old year, and what a year it’s been! The first year of living in the home we designed and built ourselves, our first year of farming and harvesting a good portion of our own food, the first year of knowing we’re here, we’ve arrived and we are not going anywhere.
We’ve raised 4 pigs, 90 meat birds and had a laying flock that reached 67 at it’s peak. This time last year we had a sum total of 7 chickens and the only earth that had been turned over was as a result of the house build, it’s quite a change! We also grew salads and greens that kept us full all summer (that looooong hot summer), 300 onions, 2 1/2 sacks of onions, processed at least 50 quarts of tomatoes, made jams and used the abundant green tomatoes for delicious, spicy chutney. The acorn squashes were a triumph (next year we want to grow a lot more of them), we’ve got enough carrots in the freezer and stored in sand to keep us going until next summer and the parsnips promise to be equally fabulous. And let’s not forget the 75lb bucket filled to the brim with honey sitting cosily in my living room; it’s been a busy year.
As well as a growing farm we have growing boys, both of them thriving in the wide spaces and fresh air. Both are expert chicken wranglers and egg collectors, they’ll happily run around with pigs and love to help dig in the earth; there is no doubt this is the right place for them. They’ve also loved the visits from family this year, Stephen’s Mum and Dad, my Dad and my beautiful sister who surprised me with a week long visit in May. Bliss.
It’s been an amazing year, one I doubt I’ll ever forget. As we end this year, and enter the period of reflection and dreaming that exists in the suspended time between this year ending and the new one beginning at the winter solstice, we all have much to feel proud of and rejoice in. We are fulfilled, we are exhausted. The work of the harvest is mostly done and now it is time to retreat to the fire side, to share our bounty with family and friends, to rest.
But Samhain isn’t just a time for remembering the year’s work, or even just for celebrating with crazy costumes and illicit treats. The traditions of this festival run much deeper and it is they that resonate with me the most. It is the time to remember those who are not with us, those who crossed the bridge to the Summerlands ahead of us, those who wait on the other side for our return ready to welcome us back. But not yet, they say, not for a long time yet.
So in amongst the fun and the dressing up and the celebrating, as we paint t-shirts, make decorations and head off for a night of trick or treating, there is time for remembrance. There is time to make a fire and flick through the photo albums, to tell stories of my grandparents and of their parents. The stories my Mum and Dad shared with me as a child, all building my sense of history and of belonging.
But mostly I remember my Mum laughing, the sound of her voice is clear in my ears, I know if I turn around quickly enough I will see her there. Tonight as I watch my boys running along the dark streets with their friends, as we share with them the traditions that mean the most to us, I know the ones we love are walking right beside us. Their love beats in our hearts, their stories run through our bones.