All the little ceramic pumpkin-shaped lanterns are scattered throughout the house, ready to light at dusk this evening. The real pumpkins have been carved and placed by the outside doors in welcome… a solitary broomstick leans against the wall of the front porch – a visitor, perhaps? The basket of sweets is ready in the hall for the children to come knocking. The Ancestor Tree stands proudly, fluttering many paper leaves on which are written the names of the beloved and dearly departed. The whole house is redolent with the cinnamon aroma of apple crumble cake.
For this is Calan Gaeaf – the Celtic ending of one year and the beginning of a period of rest and recuperation at the darkest time before the beginning of the next. It is also one of those special occasions when the veils thin between the worlds, between here and there, us and ‘others’, and we can more freely mix with life on all levels.
For me, this has never been a festival of fear and horror but inclusivity and love – ALL are welcome at my hearthside, ALL shall be honoured and cared for. All I ask is that who or whatever joins me and my family this next three days does so in a state of peace and love.
This evening we shall celebrate with the Ancestors Dinner where we all sit down around the table but with at least one extra place set for those from beyond the grave in the Summerlands. This night they may return and join us for one merry evening of loving remembrance and know that they are still held in our hearts and never forgotten. Other years their presence has been tangible and we are always ensured company during this particularly delicious but poignant meal.
Tomorrow we gather with dear friends to light the Winter fires and assess our past year, give great thanks for all that we have achieved and gently open ourselves to the rich delights of rest within the shadows and candles flames of winter… the possibilities of what might come next. And we wait… wait for the knocking at or door and the excited babble of children’s voices as they enact a custom so old that its origins are lost in the mists of time.
But they must not tarry too long out on the dark village streets or else they run the risk of being pursued by Hwch Ddu Gwta, the ferocious tailless black sow who lurks especially at gates and styles and will catch any unwary traveller and carry them off to be plunged into the depths of Ceridwen’s sacred cauldron!
On the third day – the 1st November and the also the first day of Celtic winter – we shall walk out into the woods and greet the new season, connecting with the wild energies of the wind and rain and the treasured gift of being able to be still and rest and regenerate.
Finally we shall return home, draw close around the warm fire and munch on hot buttered crumpets and spicy ‘soul cakes’ while drinking copious amounts of scalding hot tea.
However you celebrate the ending of the year and the beginning of winter, I truly hope that you find much satisfaction and love in your heart and can turn your face joyfully towards the next great occasion – perhaps the most important one of all – the return of the Light at Midwinter, for out of darkness even the smallest spark shows bravely…. but for now, simply enjoy the shadows.