Samhain and Halloween—Finding a Balance for Pagan Families


2nd Wednesday: Cottage Witch Corner (everything home, garden & family)

halloween, Samhain

Click photo to learn more about how Halloween & Samhain have tangled roots.

It’s not always easy being Pagan, especially around our holidays. It’s essentially the holiest night of the year, but while you would love your child to join you for a night of reverence and prayer, your kids would much rather dress up as Spiderman and Princess Leia to go trick-or-treating. I remember back in college, a lot of my professors would schedule midterms on October 31 if their class happened to fall on the date just so students would show up. Try explaining to your boss that you need off because you’re a Witch and it really is your holy day.

It can be frustrating trying to keep your Samhain at the same time as the popular secular American celebration come to be known as ‘Halloween.’ I remember before I became Wiccan, I had a long-standing tradition with friends to gather, order pizza, much on candy and marathon horror movies all night. I admit I miss the tradition and it wasn’t easy to just start opting out of it, however Samhain was far more important to me than Halloween. This is something I’ve kept up, even after getting married and having children.

On the other hand, in some ways it’s really great the way Halloween and Samhain overlap. For a lot of Pagans, it’s one of the few times per year when their religion at least feels mainstream. Sure, people celebrating Halloween are for the most part not recognizing the spiritual aspects of Samhain, but at least there are enough similarities to make the season feel more communal. This can be particularly meaningful to Pagan solitaries or families raising kids in places where they don’t know any other local Pagans. Seeing bats and ghosts hanging in windows all around the neighborhood and grinning jack-o-lanterns glowing on porch steps may make some Pagans feel a bit less isolated. At any rate, at least during Halloween you don’t have to worry about hiding your besom or cauldron.

Come on into my house and check out my Samhain/Halloween decor!

Having always been a HUGE Halloween lover since before I knew what a Wiccan was, I had mixed feelings. I loved the way Samhain, unlike so many other Pagan sabbats, was (seemingly) being recognized everywhere because of Halloween, but I must say I did miss my more secular festivities. Thankfully, it’s possible to pull off a celebration of both Halloween and Samhain, even with kids who still might be more taken in by the Halloween festivities than by dumb suppers* and meditations. Here are some things I found worked for our family.

Prioritize. It can be tempting to let secular Halloween activities overshadow religious Samhain activities. Remember what’s more important to you here—your faith, or your entertainment? I’m not saying you have to be a religious zealot, but if your spiritual beliefs are meaningful to you, if you truly value them, then they should be higher up the list than donning a rubber mask and OD’ing on candy corn.

You definitely want to make the spiritual aspect of Samhain the focus when the sabbat rolls around. Decide when you plan to celebrate, turn off the smartphones, the television, computers and video games. Explain to your kids why it’s such a solemn night and why anything you do as a family religiously is going to be more important than secular celebrations going on.

That said, be flexible. We always put on the sabbat feast and got things ready, then we would take a couple of hours out to take the kids trick-or-treating. We didn’t want them to miss out on that fun with their friends. We even allotted them time for the all-important post-trick-or-treating candy trade negotiations. We pushed dinner back to later than usual and held our ritual late in the night—no rush.

But once the lights went off, the candles were lit, and the offerings were ready for the altar, the secular Halloween stuff was set aside. It was Samhain now and we were going to pay the sabbat its due homage.


Pumpkin cup pies!

Make Samhain fun, too. Put on solemn music, light the candles, have a lovely family dinner that you cook together. Hold a ritual and make everyone part of it, design it to be meaningful to your family.  Throw some fun activities into the mix—perhaps looking through your grandmother’s scrapbook and telling stories about your family history, or do a seasonal enactment of your favorite myth. After all, there’s no reason a religious holiday has to be boring.

Make a night of it, if you can. We always try to take off for November 1st, if not for October 30 – November 1. It’s one of those things for which we’d save our vacation days. That way there was plenty of time to prepare, decorate, cook, throw in a little Halloween, have a big night of Samhain observance and sleep in the next day. We homeschooled, which made it easier to arrange our schooling schedule around our Pagan holidays; but even before we started homeschooling, I used to let my daughter take an absence on the 1st. If the teacher beefed about it, I told them it was for a religious observation. You legally have the right to do this if you’re Pagan.

This is how I like to get my Halloween on.

Get your Halloween Fix before Samhain. Why wait for October 31st for all the fun stuff? Halloween is popular enough a holiday now that you can start having your Halloween fun throughout October. Hold a secular Halloween party the weekend before Samhain, or have your horror movie marathon a couple of nights before Halloween. Go to an amusement park that holds Halloween theme nights (for me, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World is the best place to get my Halloween fix, but a lot of theme parks cash in on the fun now).


Between the haunted hayrides and spooky house walk-throughs, corn mazes and pumpkin carving contests, the TV specials, crafts and decorating, you can probably find plenty of ways to get your Halloween fun in without letting it encroach on your Samhain celebration.

Just gotta throw in my FAVORITE Samhain album, favorite song.

you can get it here.

Move Samhain. Remember Pagan holidays celebrate a season; the sabbats have traditional days on which they’re celebrated but they don’t commemorate a particular date. The final harvest festivals always went by the weather and moon cycles—it was only later (and because of the Catholic holiday All Hallow’s Eve) that the holiday was moved to October 31st. A lot of Pagan traditions still celebrate on the astronomical midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice (November 7th), or on the full moon closest to that. Some will time their Samhain for when the first frost hits (since it actually is the beginning of winter and the end of the ‘old year’).

If moving Samhain would be better for you, you don’t have to feel guilty about it.  Moving it can give you plenty of time to help you recuperate from the Halloween festivities so you can focus on the sabbat.

Either way, there is probably room in your life for both; just keep the true meaning of the season in mind and don’t let it get squeezed out of the schedule.

Blessed Samhain to you!


*Dumb suppers are when you set the table for the living and the dead and eat in complete silence.

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