One of the most interesting things about living in Germany, and Europe as a whole, is the sheer history that I get to experience day-to-day. America has it’s own rich history, but it can’t even hold a candle to European history. Everywhere you look, there’s a bridge, or a tree, or a building that is centuries old. It’s staggering at times. That’s why I was so excited to celebrate Samhain here. And I was not disappointed.
I spent October 31st in Ramstein, and about 45 minutes away in Steinbach is a small historic model of a Celtic Village. This Village serves as a museum and historical “hands on” for those that want to learn about Celtic history. Every year, the village holds a Samhain festival – a festival to mark the end of the harvest season (the summer) and to herald in the beginning of winter. The festival includes a torch lit hike up a mountain to the Celtic Garden that is sister to the Village. And it was this torch lit processional that my husband and I stumbled upon as we were driving down narrow, dark alleys in a small German village, looking for the festival.
It is a parade of adults and children, maybe 100 or more, excitedly yet quietly marching through town and then climbing up a dark mountainous path until they reach the summit – a small Celtic Garden that is ringed with large stone statues of Celtic deities. There, a Celtic Priest (I would say reenactor, but I truly think he was legitimate) reads a passage about the end of summer and the coming of winter. While this is all in German, and the wind carried away most of his words, I was still able to understand the intent and the sentiment of his speech.
Once he finished, everyone threw bundles of dried hay and grass into bonfires and sent up wishes. These bonfires were wild, unruly and held the promise of danger if you got too close. We threw in our wishes and hopes but had to almost burn ourselves to do so. There may not have been an intentional metaphor there, but it sure felt like it.
After, we all hiked back down the mountain. Children excitedly ran down, ready to get back to the Village proper, to indulge in snacks and drinks. But still, it was a subdued excitement, as if they could sense the thinness of the air – a time when the boundaries between our world and the Other World is at it’s weakest. At times, when the torches stuttered out, it felt very close and very still descending the mountain.
My biggest takeaway from this event was just the feeling of being outside, of being in nature. Coming from America, and celebrating Halloween in a very commercial sense, I’ve never truly taken the time to think about what the holiday means, or how the world can feel on that night. It was eery, calming, quiet and tense. Looking up at the sky, breathing in the coming winter and exhaling the departing summer, I felt in tune with the night.