Describes the Pagan "cycle of the year". Explores how Christianity adapted and continued the ancient holy days, covering them with Christian symbolism. Discusses how these holidays were observed in Pagan times.
ARTICLE Our calendar of holidays is derived from a long history of Pagan Holy Days, celebrating the movement of the Earth around the sun every year. In the USA, many holidays were given a thin veneer of Christian folklore to cover and hide the original, earth-centered celebrations.
We begin with the New Year – Samhain (pronounced sow-win), the time when the veils between the worlds were thinnest, and loved ones who had crossed over could visit this plane. Thus, the tradition of giving treats to people disguised as visitors from the other side when they come around to “trick-or-treat”. Now the Goddess ages into the Crone – hence the popularity of the “witch” disguise! This holiday is still celebrated on October 31; the Christian story is that the celebration was leading up to All Saints Day, so it was re-named All Hallows Eve – Halloween.
Soon comes the Winter solstice, celebrated as Yule by our Celtic ancestors (and under many other names around the world). Because this was such a well-loved holy day, the Christians moved their celebration of Jesus’ birth to coincide with the well- established revelry – (ignoring the fact that Jesus was most likely born in October). This is also the rebirth of the Goddess, as the earth enters slumber.
Next is Imbolc, the holiday of re-dedication. In many modern Wicca circles, we welcome and initiate new members. Naturally, Christians also adopted Brigid’s celebration and gave it to the only “goddess” they recognize: according to Wikipedia, Candlemas is a Christian holiday celebrated annually on February 2. It celebrates three occasions according to Christian belief: the presentation of the child Jesus; Jesus' first entry into the temple; and it celebrates the Virgin Mary's purification (mainly in Catholic churches).
As the year progresses, and the Goddess born at Yule ages to become the Maiden, we come to the Spring Equinox, or the first day of spring. The Holy Day Ostara is renamed Easter, and celebrates the death and revival of the God – also seen as the return of Kore, the Maiden who would be revered as Persephone, queen of Hades. All the traditional icons of spring’s fecundity are somehow added to the Christian celebration of death and resurrection, so lambs, eggs, and bunnies are everywhere!
Next is Beltane, which our modern world calls May Day and celebrates with guns! Beltane is the ceremony of joining – a time to “leap the fire” and run off to the woods with the beloved. Beltane Babies are a gift of the Goddess, and no father need be named. There does NOT seem to be much current Christian celebration – maybe that explains all the guns? Waldorf schools retain the European May Pole dance of courtship.
At Summer solstice the Goddess is now the Mother – it is the time for nurturing and fertilizing all the dreams of spring. This is the time to buckle down and work to grow the crops planted. Traditionally there was a midsummer’s celebration, but it seems to have gotten misplaced! Perhaps Father’s Day is the new Midsummer?
Next is Lammas or Lughnasada (games of Lugh in the Celtic calendar), the first of the three harvest festivals. It is perhaps honored in the West as Labor Day, but there are few traditions other than picnics to mark the end of vacation. Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread and eating it, to symbolize the sanctity and importance of the harvest. The name Lammas (contraction of loaf mass) implies it is an agrarian-based festival and feast of thanksgiving for grain and bread, which symbolizes the first fruits of the harvest.
Mabon is celebrated at the Autumn Equinox, the second of the harvest festivals. Wikipedia says that the name Mabon was coined by Aidan Kelly around 1970 as a reference to Mabon ap Modron, a character from Welsh mythology. But this is a much older holy day! There is little in the modern calendar, though children at Waldorf schools celebrate Michaelmas, the Catholic feast of the Archangel Michael, with an exciting play where Archangel Michael (mick – ay – ell) defeats the dragon and saves the countryside. Perhaps this also came to us as Thanksgiving, a festival of thankfulness for the gifts of the harvest.
And so we return to Samhain – the end and the beginning. Without our pagan roots, we would have a far less interesting year – and fewer long weekends! The dictionary explains the word Pagan as: late Middle English: from Latin paganus ‘villager, rustic,’ from pagus ‘country district.’ Latin paganus also meant ‘civilian,’ becoming, in Christian Latin, ‘heathen’ (i.e., one not enrolled in the army of Christ). All of us rustic Villagers who refuse to join the army spend our time celebrating the cycle of the year!
About the Author
Tess Pender is an ordained Interfaith Minister, active in 12-step programs for over thirty years. Her spiritual practice began with Native American Sweat Lodges, and continued with a series of Vision Quests. She led a Teen Spiritual Education Program, and regularly teaches classes on accessing intuition. She practices Earth-Centered Spirituality. She can be reached on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Rev-Tess-Interfaith-Minister- 1333335763419001/