Happy October my spook-curious readers! If you’ve followed the breadcrumbs to this post you might be like me in that you LOVE Halloween but you’ve also found yourself at that stage in your adult life where you’re over the pricey haunted bar crawls and rowdy costume parties. I mean I know they warned us about taxes and the grueling nine-to-five life, but damn really wish I got a heads up on the fact that Halloween as a young adult is mostly just texting your friends back and forth asking, “What should we do??” over and over again until you all begrudgingly agree to go to the same bar you always go to that is now charging a $10 cover fee.
That was definitely me for most of my mid-twenties and it was a total bummer to one of my most beloved seasons, until I stumbled across the perfect template for a Halloween night that is equal parts spooky, social, delicious, and truly unique!
After randomly doing some personal research into Celtic pagan traditions (all thanks to a marathon of Outlander that sparked this journey), I learned all about the festival known as Samhain. Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”) occurs between October 31 and November 1st, and celebrates the autumn harvest and the start of “the dark half of the year.” Those who celebrate believe that during this special time of year the veil between our physical world and the spiritual world is at its thinnest. It’s not hard to see how our modern day Halloween probably derived from this ancient festival as well as other cultures’ festivals that are similar.
One of the most popular traditions to celebrate Samhain is hosting a silent supper to honor the dead. Interestingly, there are different versions of this dinner found across different cultures so I really encourage you to do some research, especially within your own cultural background.
The Samhain silent supper is a topsy turvy dinner event that involves unusual dinner etiquette to invite and pay respect to those who have passed. The number one rule of the silent super is that the meal must be conducted in complete silence to show respect to your unseen dinner guests. I know a silent dinner might not sound like the most thrilling event, but trust me, when following all the other strange guidelines of the night it ends up being a fascinating experience whether you really believe ghosts are dining with you or not.
As for the other rules of the night, you can look online and find all different types of silent supper etiquette, so I ended up cherry-picking the rules I thought would be most interesting and entertaining:
1. The dinner begins at sundown.
As the sun sets, it is believed the veil begins to thin and so it’s peak timing to invite your undead dinner guests! Also, I personally find it good timing to do an earlier dinner for the living dinner guest that might have late night Halloween plans.
2. Guests must wear a costume.
As if there was any confusion with this dinner taking place on Halloween, it’s also important guests dress up to confuse any uninvited ghosts! It’s believed hosting a dinner for the dead can open yourself up to evil spirits so by dressing in costume you’re protecting your true identity and ensuring that only those you intentionally invite from the spirit world stay for festivities.
3. Your dining area must be kept sacred.
In order to make your dining space inviting to the deceased there’s a few guidelines to be followed: Firstly, there are no electronics (a good excuse to make everyone put their phones away 😉 ) permitted at the dining table. This also includes electronics like music speakers and lighting — so bust out those candles and reserve your spooky playlist for after the dinner.
If you can, get thrifty and decorate the table setting in all black to really set the tone!
A seat at the head of the table is to be left open for our deceased attendees. Drape a black shroud or blanket on this chair, and place a candle on the table in front of it to symbolize our unseen dinner guests.
When entering the dining area, guests must enter walking backwards in order of oldest to youngest and are to be seated from oldest to youngest with the oldest attendee sitting counterclockwise to the seat for the dead. When we first hosted this our apartment didn’t really have a separate dining area from the main space, so all our guests were good sports about walking into our house backwards upon arrival.
4. Serve dinner backwards.
Probably the most interesting rule of the night is that the three course meal is to be served backwards with desserts first, then the main course, and appetizers last.
Once everyone enters and takes their seat, dinner is commenced by the ringing of a bell. This signals to all attendees that our time of silence has begun and dessert is served. Also, courses are to be served from, you guessed it, oldest to youngest attendee.
At the end of dinner, after everyone finishes their appetizer, the host passes around some small notes and pens so that the guests have a chance to write out any messages they’d like to pass on to the other side. Then each guest will burn this message with the spirit candle (keep a fire proof bowl near by to catch the ashes). Once everyone has delivered their message, the host can ring the bell to signal the end of the silent supper.
In the past, we all just ended up hanging around the table enjoying some more drinks, laughing, and sharing ghost stories.
Tips for Hosting
When sending out invites to the attendees I provide them with a list of these rules so they know what to anticipate and I also keep a printed out version on the table somewhere to reference during the night.
Some other tips for a successful dinner:
- Keep the guest list small your first year. We were pretty constricted due to the small size of our apartment so we ended up inviting 12, with only seven officially showing up.
- Get creative about your definition of desserts and appetizers. In theory, eating dessert first might sound like your childhood dreams come true but trust me, we made that mistake the first year and everyone found themselves abnormally full by the time the main course came around. Instead, try to stick to savory “desserts” like baked brie with a sticky walnut honey topping, reversely for the appetizers you can lean on the sweeter side like a chocolate hummus plate.
- Speaking of the desserts and appetizers, unless you are one of those magical beings that doesn’t get stressed with handling a three course meal all on your own, or maybe you’re planning on catering the whole thing (ultimately that’s my goal for these dinners one day), ask guests to handle bringing a dessert or appetizer dish especially if you plan on inviting a lot of guests!
- If you only have a few guests, you could probably do a more formal dinner and serve your guests as the host, but with more people, I recommend doing it buffet style so that guests can serve themselves. Just make sure they remember the oldest to youngest serving rule and they wait until the person to their left serves themselves first.
- If you can, keep everything in reach for your guests (salt and pepper, refill of drinks, etc.) since once the dinner begins it’s pretty hard to communicate with one another.
The first year I hosted this I was a little apprehensive it would be taken seriously since the guest list consisted mostly of my partner’s friends who are known to get a little rowdy. Surprisingly though, they all took it VERY seriously and even requested I host it again the following year. I definitely recommend hosting your own version with your friends if you’re looking for something to do this Halloween!
Comment any questions you have on hosting your own silent supper below!