Happy New Year!
October 31st is New Years Eve in some cultures. The ancient Celts considered that specific day to be the boundary between the six months of light, or summer, and the six months of darkness, winter. Harvest was finished and preparations had all been made to survive and endure the cold, hard nights of northern Europe. It was a time to pause and reflect, a short time between the hard work of growing crops, gathering seeds and nuts, and hunting, and the equally difficult months ahead of keeping the fire going, protecting family from the onslaught of winter cold and storms, and making the supply of food last until spring.
Celebrated halfway between the autumn equinox on September (called Mabon) and the winter solstice in December (Yule), it was logical to make this day the boundary between the years, as the end of October weather in Europe matched more closely with the beginning of winter than our current "meteorological" winter starting in late December when snow had perhaps fallen several times already. No wonder then that this boundary day came to be associated with the boundaries between the physical world and the spiritual, for the Celts saw spiritual meaning in every thing, every creature, and every occurrence around them. Life and the lightness of day, death and the darkness of night. The day came to be called Samhain, (pronounced by most as "sow-in") meaning "Summer's End".
The Celts believed in an afterlife as many cultures do, the Otherworld. On Samhain, they thought, the differences between the two worlds were least, perhaps because the day to day weather could be of summer or winter in this transitional season. The so-called veil between the worlds could be easily moved aside and communication with those who had passed was possible. But since the Otherworld contained the spirits of the good and the evil, the communication wasn't always pleasant. When an Otherword dweller crossed over and their spirit walked among the living, chaos could result.
Many of these ancient beliefs survive in European culture to this day, though in other guise. We carve pumpkins into jack o' lanterns, so their faces will scare away the evil spirits and protect us. We talk of ghouls and ghosts and monsters being about. We hide ourselves in costumes to protect ourselves. As time wears on, we've forgotten many of the reasons behind this day. Samhain became Halloween. Even churches got into the act, creating their own holidays (holy-days) to take attention away from the "evil" pagan celebrations. All Hallows Day and All Saints Day are still part of many church calendars. In the church we attend, the Sunday after Halloween is when we remember those who have gone on during a special time in the worship service, when be bring forward photos of our lost loved ones. We do not wear costumes, though.
When the veil is thinnest ... when our thoughts perhaps connect most easily to our ancestors ... when we feel their presence perhaps a little better than most days ... sounds like a holy day to me, no matter what beliefs you hold in your heart.
Happy New Year!