A Primer of Pagan Holidays

The eight major Pagan holidays of the year are often arranged in the form of a Yule Wheel. (Image mine, based on public domain images from Pixabay and courtesy of artists Gerhard Gellinger and Gerd Altmann.)

The eight major Pagan holidays of the year are often arranged in the form of a Yule Wheel. (Image mine, based on public domain images from Pixabay and courtesy of artists Gerhard Gellinger and Gerd Altmann.)


Pagan Holidays in the 21st Century

Contemporary Pagan holidays are often known as Sabbats. Most Pagans today tend to follow a calendar of festivals that was popularized by Gerald Gardner, the father of modern Witchcraft. This calendar is seen as a cyclical, rather than a linear one. It is often referred to as the Yule Wheel, or the Wheel of the Year. Each of the spokes on this wheel represents one of the eight Sabbats. The wheel is named for Yule, or the winter solstice, which is the first holiday at the 12 o’clock position of the wheel.

Solstices and Equinoxes

Four spokes of the Yule Wheel represent the two solstices and two equinoxes of the year. These four Pagan holidays are also the transition points between seasons, and are located at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions on the wheel. In the Northern Hemisphere, these are the festivals that fall on those days:

  • Winter solstice, or Yule, falls around December 21. It shares a good deal in common with Christmas, including the birth of an infant who is also a God. Yule is often marked with a vigil that begins the night before, and ends when the sun rises the next day. It is the rebirth of the Sun God, and the promise of light and warmth at the end of a long, cold winter.
  • Spring equinox, often called Ostara, occurs around March 21 each year. Many of its customs – like rabbits and dyed eggs – are also associated with Easter.
  • Summer solstice, which many call Litha, happens around June 21. This longest day of the year also marks the turning point at which the days become ever shorter. This day is perhaps best known for the Druids who greet the rising sun at Stonehenge on the solstice each year.
  • Fall equinox, sometimes called Mabon, is celebrated around September 21. It is the second of two harvest festivals (the other two being Lughnassadh and Samhain, below) and is often associated with apples.

Greater Sabbats

The solstices and equinoxes are sometimes known as the Lesser Sabbats, while the four remaining Pagan holidays are called the Greater Sabbats. These are placed at even intervals, at the mid-points between the solstices and equinoxes. Each of the holidays is thus the peak of a season. They are:

  • Imbolc (also known as Candlemas) is celebrated on February 2. This holiday is a celebration of hearth and home, and is often dedicated to the Celtic Goddess Brigit.
  • Beltane (aka May Day) is marked on May 1. This is a holiday that is heavily associated with fertility. It is often celebrated as the first mating (or wedding) of a God-Goddess pair.
  • Lughnassadh (also Lammas,) on August 2, is the first of three Pagan holidays associated with the harvest season. This day is a celebration of corn (maize) and grains, and of breads and other baked goods. It is sometimes marked as the wake of the sun God Lugh.
  • Samhain (Halloween) on October 31 is the most sacred of all Pagan holidays. It is a time to honour ancestors and loved ones more recently passed from this world. Many of the traditions of the secular Halloween holiday (dressing up, trick-or-treating, jack-o-lanterns) have their roots in Pagan Europe.

Together, the Greater and Lesser Sabbats are the solar festivals of the year. These eight Sabbats are the more festive Pagan holidays, as opposed to the lunar Esbats – usually celebrated at the New and Full Moons each month. Esbats tend to be seen as an occasion for working, teaching, and taking care of the “housekeeping” of a coven or other Pagan group.

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    • Kyla Matton Osborne
  1. TheBrit
    • Kyla Matton Osborne

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