To me, the Pagan sabbats or festivals are about three things:
1) Observing and celebrating the changes taking place in nature, and recognising the cyclical nature of the seasons and life in general.
2) Reflecting on various aspects of my life and life in general. Because humans are part of the natural order, to a degree the changing seasons are reflected in our inner lives or psyche (or rather can be if we choose to live in tune with nature). Different times of the year prompt reflection on different aspects of life.
3) Engaging in activities to mark the occasion.
I think the greatest challenge in celebrating the sabbats in the southern hemisphere is that our culture is so dominated by the northern hemisphere that festivals such as Halloween, when they have been imported, are publicly celebrated on the same date as in the Northern Hemisphere (Oct 31), which is seasonally inappropriate for us and removes a lot of the original meaning of the occasion.
The same occurs with the Christianised festivals of Easter and Christmas. While I do observe Christmas in December etc, I mentally hold these celebrations in a separate category from my seasonal observations, and they are done more in the spirit of celebrating family life rather than as an occasion to reflect on the underlying seasonal/cyclical issues.
So What is Samhain Actually About?
Samhain marks the passage into the "dead" of winter. Summer greenery is diminishing and the leaves turn and begin to fall. We also experience the first frosts of winter.
Samhain is the festival of celebrating and remembering the dead, of honouring our ancestors. It is also a time to recognise and reflect on the certainty of death and the fact of decay, old age and eventual demise. It is associated with the Crone aspect of the goddess who is revered for her wisdom and experience. Many pagans also believe in the continuous nature of existence - that life is a constant cycle of death and rebirth, so Samhain is still a celebration, not a bleak event!
Samhain is also the pagan "new year" as it marks the death of one year and the rebirth of the next.
A lot of the popular imagery of Halloween such as ghosts and monsters are related to human fears about darkness and our relationship with death.
How Will I Celebrate Samhain?
I will bake a pumpkin pie or an apple pie (or probably both!)
I will carve a jack o lantern (cos they are so damn cute)
I will take the time to reflect on all the stuff outlined above (though this is done over the course of a couple of weeks around Samhain rather than just on one set day)
I will put up a couple of seasonal decorations around the house, such as those in my last couple of posts.
I will get outside and spend some time in nature to feel the seasons turning
And that's it!
I have been a pagan in my heart for as long as I can remember, however I do not and never have belonged to any pagan groups, so these are solely my own personal musings.