With the days gradually growing shorter the wonderful colors of the leaves emerge across our landscape. For some people this is a period of sadness due to the waning summer and for others the most beautiful season of all.
This is the time of traditional celebrations.
September 21st marks the beginning of fall with the autumnal equinox which harkens back to pagan traditions tens of thousands of years ago and represents an equal amount of daylight and darkness in one day. This is signified by the appearance of the harvest moon around this time and the beginning of many fall traditional celebrations as noted in the famous Neil Young song of the same name- Harvest Moon.
Probably the most popular fall celebration is Thanksgiving. In 1621 the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. A typical Thanksgiving family feast in Canada would be centered around a turkey dinner with all the traditional fixings of mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet potatoes , cranberry sauce ,sweet corn, various types of squash ,brussel sprouts ,stuffing and a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables finished with pumpkin pie.This represented the final harvesting of the crops and other blessings of the past year in preparation for the winter traditions of giving thanks and long predates the arrival of European settlers in North America.
First Nation traditions on Turtle Island have Thanksgiving traditions for surviving winter and renewing crops and game and these traditions included feasting, prayer, dance, potlatch and other ceremonies. English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew had the first Canadian Thanksgiving in 1578 as the story goes in 1578. Frobisher and his crew gave thanks and communion was observed on land at Frobisher Bay in Newfoundland.This is now accepted as the first Canadian Thanksgiving ,43 years before the first American Thanksgiving.
48 th years later in 1606 inhabitants of New France under Samuel de Champlain held the Feast of Thanksgiving between local Micmac and the French and though not known at the time by the settlers cranberries rich in vitamin C which were served with the thanksgiving dinner are credited with helping avoid scurvy …a Vit.C deficiency disease. Neighbouring Micmac Indians likely introduced the French to cranberries or as they call them petite palms rouge’s.
Canadian Thanksgiving is usually celebrated the second Monday in October to make sure that it does not overlap with November 11th Remembrance Day.
Another Autumn ceebration is Halloween. It is a holiday celebrated each year on October 31st.
The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic Festival of Samhain where people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the 8th Century Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as a time to honour all the saints.Soon All Saints Day Incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve and later Halloween. Over time Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o’-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating treats .The day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark cold winter a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and on the night of October 31st they celebrated Samhain when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead return to Earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops Celts thought that the presence of otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids or Celtic Priests to make predictions about the future for the people entirely dependant on the volatile natural world. These prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long dark winter. To commemorate the event Druids built huge sacred bonfires where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration the Celts wore costumes typically consisting of animal heads and skins and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over they re- lit there hearthfires which they had extinguished earlier that evening from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
Trick or treating may seem like a modern event with its traditional carved pumpkin but you can trace its roots back to Celtic Britain and Ireland in the 9th century. It’s believed that trick-or-treating evolved from a ritual where people dressed as ghosts and demons and perform dances around a bonfire and receive treats to appease the evil spirits.
Modern trick or treat costumes incorporate many modern-day icons and celebrities and is equally celebrated by adults as well as children where children yell trick or treat …in other words give me some candies or we will perform a trick on you. Pumpkins with ghoulish faces illuminated by candles called jack-o’-lanterns sure sign of the Halloween season. The practice of decorating jack-o’-lanterns originated in Ireland where large turnips and potatoes served as early canvases. In fact the name jack-o’-lantern comes from an Irish folk tale about a man named Stingy Jack. Irish immigrants brought the Stingy Jack Jack O’Lantern tradition to North America… home of the pumpkin and it became an intregal part of Halloween festivities.
Whatever your Mid-Autumn celebratory traditions, Halloween and Thanksgiving serve the purpose of lightening the spirits for the impending winter darkness and cold days growing gradually shorter.