By Susanne Gargiulo, Special to CNN
As pumpkins, witches and faux cobwebs have taken over much of North America for Halloween, Clare Slaney-Davis is preparing an October 31 feast that some would consider much spookier, with table settings for her grandparents, a great-aunt and other relatives who have passed away.
As she and her living guests eat, they’ll share stories and memories of loved ones they’ve lost.
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Slaney-Davis, who is based in London, isn’t preparing the feast for Halloween. Instead, she and pagans around the world are celebrating Samhain, the beginning of the pagan new year, a night when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is believed to be the thinnest of any time during the year.
That’s why it’s a night devoted to ancestors. “We honor them, and we recognize that we don’t live in a world of people who are merely dead or alive,” says Slaney-Davis, 46. “Ancestors are central to us.”
Along with the Catholic holiday All Saints’ Day, Samhain is considered an ancient forerunner of Halloween. Samhain began as a Celtic celebration marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter’s hardship.
Today, pagans play down the Halloween-Samhain connection. But the growing popularity of the pagan new year in Europe and North America is part of what many experts say is a global revival of paganism.