A day late, but not forgotten!
November the First marks one of two special days in Pagan history - the Celtic New Year. The Celts divided the year into two seasons: one of Light and one of Dark (you can just as easily say that it was divided into four quarters so as to include Imbolc and Lughnasadh). Beltane is celebrated in the early summer (May 1st) and Samhain (say "Sah-Wane") is celebrated in the early winter (November 1st). Just as the Celtic day begins with the night, the Celtic year begins with Samhain, when the cycle is renewed. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with dawn celebrations, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st (known today of course, as Halloween).
The Celts were influenced principally by the lunar and stellar cycles which governed the agricultural year - beginning and ending in autumn when the crops have been harvested and the soil is prepared for the winter.
In Scots Gaelic, Samhain literally means “summer's end.” With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints' Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year - so the night before became popularly known as Halloween or All Hallows Eve. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, Pagan and Christian beliefs intertwine in a gallimaufry (yep, GRE word put to use! Woo!) of celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.
Samhain was also a time for contemplation. Death was never very far away, yet to die was not the tragedy it is in modern times. Of signal importance to the Celts was to die with honor and to live in the memory of the tribe and be honored at the great feast (in Ireland this would have been the Fleadh nan Mairbh (Feast of the Dead)) which took place on Samhain Eve.
This was the most magickal time of the year - Samhain was the day that didn't exist! At night, the great shield of Skathach was lowered, allowing the barriers between the worlds to fade and the forces of chaos to invade the realms of order, the material world conjoining with the world of the dead. At this time, the spirits of the dead and those yet to be born walked with the living. The dead could return to the places where they lived and food and entertainment were provided in their honor. This aspect of the festival was never totally subdued by Christianity.
In the three days preceding the Samhain month the Sun God, Lugh, dies by the hand of his Tanist (his other self, the Lord of Misrule). Lugh traverses the boundaries of the worlds on the first day of Samhain. His Tanist is a miser and though he shines brightly in the winter sky, he gives no warmth and does not temper the breath of the Crone, the north wind. This may be discerned as the ageless battle between light and dark and the cyclic nature of life and the seasons.
When the Romans made contact with the Celts, they added their feast of the dead to Samhain. The Christians subverted the recognition of Samhain to honor the saints, as All Saint's Day on November 1st and named October 31 as All Hallow's Eve. This later became a secular holiday by the name of Hallowe'en. Although using different nomenclatures, all of these festivals and feasts are celebrating the accessibility, veneration, awe, and respect of the dead.
Source cited: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
So, Happy New Year, everybody!