Guide to Pagan Holidays
Understanding the Pagan holidays seems often a daunting task for newcomers to any Pagan religion. This guide will hopefully give you a better sense of these special days and what you can typically expect from them. Also, I hope to give you some sense of each holidays history and origins as well as variations of these holidays from religion to religion.
Related Holidays: Yule (Nordic, German), Saturnalia (Roman Festival), Christmas (Christian, Western)
The Winter Solstice has traditionally been thought of as the rebirth of the Horned God in Wiccan and some other Neo-pagan traditions. December 21st is the shortest day of the year and the turning point when days become longer, leading to spring. The celebration is marked by the burning of the Yule log and plenty of wassailing. It is thought that these practices marked the coming of the Sun God, back to make the days longer and the earth renewed with spring time.
The celebration of the winter solstice however, is as varied as the many religions that celebrate it. The Germans and Nordic Tribes traditionally celebrated the god Odin on this day with feasting that often took on a loosely religious air with fertility sacrifices. These traditions were likely taken on by Christians as a compromise with the Pagans. By celebrating the unknown birth date of Christ during the traditional Pagan celebrations it was likely that the Pagans and Christians of old were better able to cooperate their celebrations.
Related Holidays: Candlemas, Groundhog Day
Imbolc is often celebrated by Neo-pagans of many backgrounds, but it is actually a Gaelic holiday held in honor of their goddess Brigid. This day later became known as St. Brigid Day for this very reason. This is one of the four holy days that traditional witches also celebrate.
Wiccans now celebrate this date as the coming of Spring. It is one of the eight Sabbats Wiccans celebrate, taken from diverse cultures and religious backdrops. It is celebrated with bonfires, candles, divination, song, and dance. It is also a time, traditionally speaking, when Wiccans are initiated into covens.
Related Holidays: Ostara, Easter, Passover
The Vernal Equinox is celebrated by Wiccans as the time of renewal and growth. It is not traditionally celebrated by non-Wiccan witches or the Gaels. This day started as a celebration held by the ancient Germans to honor their Spring goddess Eostre. This name was later changed to Easter.
On this day, Wiccans celebrate by holding bonfires, planting seeds, and overall just enjoying the outdoors. Traditional witch practitioners, while not celebrating the day themselves, often find this time of the year a good time to grow with Mother Earth. This is a good time to try something new, pick up a new hobby, or do some spring cleaning.
Related Holidays: May Day, Latha Bealltainn (Scottish), Lá Bealtaine (Irish)
Beltane is another of the traditionally celebrated holidays. Started in Ireland, Beltane (as it is commonly known as) is a time of celebration and hopes for a good harvest later in the year. It is a time of purification and transition, the juxtaposition of Samhain when it is thought the Otherworld is capable of connecting with ours.
For this reason, huge balefires are a common sight during these celebrations. The May Pole, a symbol of the union of the Lord and Lady, is another common Beltane tradition. Some Wiccans celebrate the High Beltane, re-enacting the courtship of the Lord and Lady. On the other hand, non-Wiccan pagans often stick to more traditional practices rooted solely in the Celtic meaning of the holiday.
Related Holidays: Litha, Midsummer
Another non-traditional Pagan holiday, the summer solstice is now often referred to as Litha because of the Vernerable Bede's description of the month as the "earlier Litha month". This day is the longest day of the year and the changing of power from the Horned God to the Goddess as the days begin to get shorter again.
Celebrations often include picking of herbs (thought to be more "magickal" on this day), divinations involving fairies, bonfires, outdoor activities, feasting, and ritual.
Related holidays: Lammas
This traditional Pagan celebration is a considered to be the first harvest. It is traditionally Irish, being named after the god Lugh who began the celebration after his foster-mother Tailtiu died after clearing all the fields in Ireland for agriculture.
The celebrations, including fires, feasting, and dancing are a celebration both of the sacrifice of Tailtiu to give birth to Irish agriculture and the death of summer and birth of fall. Families used to take this time to pick the first of the harvest and celebrate together, though now reunions have been moved to more secular holidays such as the Fourth of July.
Related Holidays: Mabon
Celebrating the second harvest, Mabon is a Germanic holidays celebrated by many Neo-pagans. Wiccans often celebrate this holidays with stories of wine gods, dancing, harvesting the last of the crops, and of course, bonfires.
This is the other day of the year when the days and nights are equal length. It is celebrated as the continual passing of the Horned God. Pagans take this time to give thanks for the good harvest of crops and the harvest of spiritual knowledge in their lives.
Related Holidays: Halloween, All-Soul's Day, All-Saint's Day
October 31st, November 1st
Samhain is probably the most celebrated and holy of all traditional Pagan holidays. Samhain is thought to be the day when the veil between our world and that of the Otherworld is the thinnest, allowing contact with spirits. Many believe that it is the first day of the ancient Irish year. This is a Irish holiday adapted by Wiccans and other Neo-pagans.
Celebrations include a great deal of divination (especially with spirits), feasting, praying to ancestors, rituals honoring the dead, and parties.