With the season changes come an internal drive to celebrate. When there is an abundance, even present day families will take their kids out to a restaurant and celebrate with a feast, as their ancestors did before them. I believe that the determination as to when to celebrate has never been an issue with pre-modern man, they just celebrated when the time felt right. Today’s Pagan has a slightly more modern perception of time, and many Pagan holidays fall on a Solstice, an Equinox, or a day in between, called a Cross Quarter. These holidays are called Sabbats, which is a mixture between the Jewish Shabbats and Sabbath (as in Witches’ Sabbath.
A solstice is as it sounds, a scientific term used to describe the longest day or the shortest day. The summer and winter solstice is when the daylight is the longest, or the nighttime is the longest. An equinox is when the daylight and the nighttime is equal in length. There are two solstices, and two equinoxes. Pagans also celebrate the exact middle between each, making the number of holidays observed as an extra four holidays. While you are scratching your head wondering how do we keep track of them all I will explain. Take any Pagan holiday, and begin there. In exactly six weeks, there will be a new holiday. Every six weeks is a new Pagan holiday to celebrate, or approximately every month and a half.
During the fall, the fruit of the labors from spring to fall are all laid out before them, and they had accomplished a great victory, collecting enough food for the winter. With the surplus, they feasted! Pagans chose to celebrate this time of year with a feast of their own, Mabon (May-bon). Of course there is all sorts of kinky lore that goes with Mabon (NOT, we save that for Beltane). Ahem, back on a serious note, Mabon literally celebrates the abundance of the season. Some Pagan circle use this holiday as the start of their new year, others use Yule. Whatever the determination is, I use it as a time for be thankful. Other pagan circles use this holiday as the Witches Thanksgiving as well. It’s wonderful to be thankful, being grateful daily will remap your entire brain, and make you a more positive person. There is relatively little lore regarding any deity or supernatural event that causes this day to be a holiday, or to be any more significant than any other fall day. However, Mabon falls on the Autumn Equinox. That day is usually September 21st or 22nd. The day and the night are equal. From that day forward, the day is shorter, and the nights are longer.
Then we come to Halloween. Pagans tend to call this holiday Samhain (Sow-when). The word is a Irish in origin, as is many of the Pagan holiday names. A lot of creepy lore is attributed to this time of year. However, many Pagans view this time of year as a time to honor those who have passed on, much like the Chinese Ancestor Festival, Qingming. Altars are set up with pictures of loved ones with candles to light the area and create a somber ambience. (is that the right word, did I spell it right?) Yes, some Pagans believe that they can communicate with the dead due to this day being a special time of year for them, and the optimal time for communicating with the spirit world. You can find a whole host of Pagan websites to give you their version of the origins of Halloween, but for me, it signifies the deep fall time of year. It is this time that the weather truly changes, and those leaves have hit their peak, or it is shortly after their peak, of brilliant color and the drifting of leaves in the air. Pumpkins are truly done, and ready to be picked and made into tasty treats, and the true sharing of stores to even out the harvest has begun, or has just concluded. It is a moment to batten down the hatches, and be ready for colder days and things to go into hibernation.
We skip the whole month of November to mid December, just days before Christmas. Yule is a solstice day, and is that longest night I spoke of earlier. For those pre-modern men, tending the fire all night left people tired the next day, and to stay awake through the night stories were told. I found a whole host of stories for this particular time of year, which I urge you to look through some of my other blog postings for. Yule can also be a sanity check, a way for the community to determine who is entering a depressive stage, or is stressed too much. Winter has officially begun, and yet it has been too cold to do anything outside for a while. As a community, Yule is a way to brush out the cobwebs that have formed, and to check each other’s mental health. Of course, North American’s will tell you that this is NOT the time of year to get into a bored, depressive state. There is wayyyy too much to do, and too many people to visit. However, I wish everyone the best in finding time to be quiet, find themselves, and feel the community feeling of happiness every chance they get.
We leave Yule and go through the month of January, the first full month of winter, and into the beginning of February to Imbolg, or Imbolc (Im-bo-lick, or im-bolg). This is my personal favorite. Imbolc is a cross quarter day, halfway between a solstice and an equinox. This is a day to say winter is halfway done! Traditional holidays associated with this day is the American Groundhog Day, or the Catholic Candlemas. There are not many things to do during this holiday, except defy the weather, throw on your cold weather gear, and run around outside until you come to your senses and run back inside to huddle underneath a blanket with your coffee, tea, cocoa, knitting, book, or whatnot. I traditionally wake up before the sun rises and light candles in the window that the sun will rise up in, and wait for sun rise. I feel a glorious feeling every time I see and feel that sunlight, as it lifts my spirits up.
Next comes Ostara (ah-stair-ah). Now, if you ever wonder what the heck rabbits and chickens have anything to do with the Christian Easter, here is where you need to look. This holiday is a equinox day, in which each day after this is now going to be longer. By now, spring has officially sprung, even though it is likely that you can plant your garden long before this holiday arrives. This Pagan holiday arrives around mid March, even though the Christian Easter is later in the year, around mid to late April. I tend to see this day as one of the drearier days of the year, because it tends to rain for me. Those gentle spring rains are not warm, or loving, they are cold! But it does mark the day in which spring has officially began, and it is time to get muddy with planting!
Beltane occurs at the very beginning of May. It is holiday that I have the most fun in. As promised, there is all sorts of lore regarding sexuality, and sexual deviance. As a Pagan community, we are (supposed) to be non-judgmental, and are open to people celebrating new relationships with each other. I’m not going to say that there are not some really interesting things that happen, but it’s not really any of my business. I was not included, and it’s not my business to share. As a part of the Pagan community, we are expected to act with a certain level of maturity, and unwarranted drama is frowned upon. I really like this holiday because it really shakes off the winter time blues, and I can’t start being positive until this holiday rolls around. I become infected by the energy of the holiday and the camaraderie of fellow Pagans. This day is a cross quarter day, in the middle of the full swing of spring. There is much to be done, and spring planting to be done all around.
Litha (lith-ah) follows Beltane, and is the first day of Summer. It is also the Summer solstice, in which it is the longest day of the year. The day falls on the 19th-21st of June. Many call this day Midsummer, likely because days have already began to turn hot, and it feels like summer has already started. The two summer holidays get a little ignored by me. I am usually so very busy, and the celebrations are not as big a deal as the winter and spring celebrations.
And last is Lammas (lam-mas) or Lughnasadh (loo-nah-sah). Like it’s other summer holiday, Litha, this is often a little celebrated holiday. It is a cross quarter holiday, and the days are not noticeably shorter, but eventually by the end of September, the days and nights will be even in length. This holiday is generally celebrated on or near August 1st. Some Pagans celebrate this holiday as part of the first summer harvest. I generally think of it as the beginning of summer drought period, as most of the rain that has come is done for the year until Mabon. Then the season cools down and the rains return.