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Feeding Spirits on Halloween

Before Halloween became commercialized, many people celebrated an older tradition called Samhain. Food played a part in Samhain as well, but it wasn’t anything like the current holiday.

In that older tradition, people believed that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the Otherworld was thin, which meant spirits could cross into our world. Families might leave a place at their table with food for loved ones they’d lost. It was also common to leave food for wandering spirits as a way to appease them and hopefully prevent the spirits from causing any mischief.

These foods, of course, weren’t mass-produced candy in individual packaging. They were foods that people had available this time of year, using ingredients like root vegetables, nuts, and spices. A few examples are colcannon, soul cakes, and a type of bread called barmbrack. (You can learn more about these foods here.)

Thinking about those earlier traditions makes me wonder what the people who celebrated them would think of our modern Halloween. I suspect they’d find it confusing, just as I find it confusing to think of leaving food for a spirit so it doesn’t ruin my crops.

But recently, I had an idea for a different way to think about it.

What if, instead of feeding spirits from the Otherworld, you were feeding your own spirit? What would that look like?

Food for your spirit

Maybe foods that nourish your spirit include something sweet like candy, but it might not be mass-produced Halloween candy. Perhaps you could get really good quality chocolate or some other type of candy you enjoy.

Perhaps your sweet tastes run towards baked goods. If so, you could check out a bakery instead of grabbing something pre-made and wrapped in plastic. I realize this is a bit more effort, but it’s usually worth it. I still have fond memories of Foley’s Bakery (sadly now closed), where one year I got a small spider cake – the head and body were rich chocolate cake, covered in black fondant, and I believe the legs were black licorice (which I like).

But you may also find that what feeds your spirit is heartier, more nourishing fare. This time of year, that might be a good soup or stew.

This is certainly true for me. One recent example is that I had gotten some delicata squash from friends, and I had some leftover chicken, so I found this recipe for Delicata Squash and Kale Chicken Soup. It took a lot of chopping, but the result is tasty, filling, and all-around satisfying, lifting my spirits as the days get shorter and colder.

I also like and have made colcannon, and I’ve been making more muffins lately. I haven’t made pumpkin muffins yet, but perhaps that’s next, especially since I have a recipe that my mom used all the time – so that would feed my spirit while honoring her memory.

Once you start to think of it this way, the possibilities for Halloween food are much greater – and more nutritious – than what you’ll find in the seasonal aisle of the store.

So on this Halloween, perhaps you can think about what kind of food nourishes your spirit, and then treat yourself to it. And unlike eating lots of store-bought candy, I don’t think you’ll regret it.


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