What are the Seasonal Holidays?
Samhain. Winter Solstice (Yule). Imbolc. Spring Equinox (Ostara). Beltane. Summer Solstice (Litha). Lammas/Lugnasadh. Autumnal Equinox (Mabon).
You hear a lot about the seasonal holidays these days. Folks post about them on Instagram, herbal stores offer Solstice sales, “Happy Ostara” is thrown around, as if everyone celebrates it.
What’s the deal with the seasonal holidays? What are they?
The Seasonal Holidays are eight holidays distributed throughout the year. Way way back in the day, in northern Europe, there were four major fire festivals: Beltane, Lammas, Samhain, and Imbolc. These festivals each represented the start of a major season in the pastoral, grazing-and-shepherding world of northern Europe.
Meanwhile, in southern Europe, the main holidays were the Solstices and the Equinoxes, holidays that honored the Sun and charted daylight hours. These holidays were very important in the agriculture-and-growing-veggies world of southern Europe.
At some point, the tradition of honoring the Solstices and Equinoxes floated upward and combined with the fire festivals to create eight holidays, eight points on the Wheel of the Year.
The Seasonal Holidays are the turning points on the Wheel of the Year.
With the blending of traditions, we have some decisions to make. For instance, do we celebrate spring/fertility/planting season at Spring Equinox, or at Beltane? Do we celebrate the end/beginning of the year at Samhain or at Winter Solstice?
Each person makes their own decisions about the nuance of each holiday. My practices are informed by my life as a farmer in the mid-Atlantic, with all the nuance of the natural cycles in this specific part of the world.
Each seasonal holiday represents a shift not only in daylight hours, but in the energy of nature and ourselves.
I think of the year in terms of the Outward Spiral and the Inward Spiral.
From Spring Equinox to Autumnal Equinox, our energy is spiraling Outward (think: solar energy, yang, Divine Masculine, extroversion, manifesting, etc.). Summer Solstice represents the Peak of the Outward Spiral.
From Autumnal Equinox to Spring Equinox, our energy is spiraling Inward (think: lunar energy, yin, Divine Feminine, introversion, reception, reflection, etc.) Winter Solstice represents the Peak of the Inward Spiral.
Technically, the “sabbat” of each holiday begins at sunset the evening prior. So Samhain, for instance, begins at sunset on October 31st and continues until sunset on November 1st. Most folks celebrate the holiday on the first evening.
The quick-and-dirty about each holiday:
When: October 31st - November 1st
Pronounced: Sow-when or sow-ween
AKA: Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve
What is it: Traditionally, the start of the new year. It is a time of death, a time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is most thin. This makes it a potent time for energy work, connecting with ancestors, and gaining insights from the spirit world.
Winter Solstice (Yule).
When: December 21st- December 22nd
AKA: Yule, Midwinter, the Longest Night
What is it: The peak of the Inward Spiral, when the night is long and the day is short. But is also heralds the return of the Light, the time when daylight will be increasing. A time for introspection, reflecting on the year past and setting intentions for the year to come. I celebrate Winter Solstice as the first day of the New Year.
When: January 31st - February 1st
AKA: Imbolg, Candelmas, St. Brigid’s Day
What is it: A time to celebrate the “first slant of light,” to search out the first small signs of spring. A time for ritual cleansing, for beginning to welcome movement and prepare oneself for the growing season.
Spring Equinox (Ostara).
When: March 21st - 22nd
AKA: Vernal Equinox
What is it: The Balance of Dark and Light, with Light expanding. A time to celebrate the first pulls of the Outward Spiral, and the true unfurling of Springtime.
When: April 31st-May 1st
Pronounced: Technically pronounced “Bell-tinnah” but folks now just say “Bell-tane”
AKA: Beltaine, May Day
What is it: The first day of summer, and a celebration of the fertility of the land! In the mid-Atlantic, we begin to see first leaves at Beltane, and we bless the fields for fertility. We also tap into our own creative energies.
Summer Solstice (Litha).
When: June 21st - June 22nd
What is it: The peak of the Outward Spiral! Peak yang, peak extroversion, peak solar energy. Get outside! Have fun!
When: September 30th - August 1st
Pronounced: Lahm-mas or Loo-nah-sah
AKA: Loaf-mass, August Eve
What is it: The beginning of the harvest season. Bake bread, thank the bread, appreciate grains. Abundance & gratitude.
Autumnal Equinox (Mabon).
When: September 21st-22nd
AKA: Fall Equinox, Autumn Equinox
What is it: The still point in the spiral, the balance of Light and Dark, with Dark about to overtake Light. The beginning of the Inward Spiral, the beginning of the time of shedding, letting go, releasing.
Questions that people have actually asked me about the Seasonal Holidays that you might be wondering, too:
If I celebrate the seasonal holidays, does that make me a witch?
There is no standard definition of a “witch.”
This is my definition of a witch:
A witch is a person who draws upon the power of the natural world for healing, spiritual guidance, and support in all manners of living.
Many witches and Wiccans celebrate the seasonal holidays. If you celebrate the seasonal holidays and also work with the natural world in other ways, you probably fall into the very broad category of what could be defined as a witch.
If you work with plant medicine at all you would have been enough of a witch to have been persecuted for it back in the day.
If you are a strong, empowered woman, especially one who 1) lives alone 2) owns property or 3) doesn’t yield to social norms, that would have been enough to persecute you for witchcraft. (Empowered women are infinitely powerful and thus murderously scary.)
Does any of that make you a witch? It’s up to you to decide.
Do people who celebrate the seasonal holidays worship the devil?
Absolutely not. Pagans, neo-pagans, Wiccans, witches, whatever you want to call them — they do not believe in the devil or Satan.
The concept of an Omnipotent Malevolent Being was created by other religions (not going to name names here) and has no place in pagan worship or ceremonies.
There is a deity in traditional northern European culture called the “Horned God” that represents the Divine Masculine and certain aspects of fertility and the hunt. Images of the Horned God were used to depict witches dancing with the devil etc. The Horned God is not the devil.
Do you have to get naked to celebrate the seasonal holidays?
You do not have to get naked to celebrate the seasonal holidays. Especially not in winter.
It is true that some covens practice “skyclad” aka naked. Ritual nudity represents complete freedom, and a dedication to Truth above any ideology.
But really, most folks these days do not practice naked. And no, we do not get naked during our seasonal circles on the farm.
Is it like a cult?
It’s completely not like a cult at all.
This is a wild way of being. There are no rules.
You can make your own rules if you like, but you won’t get very far convincing other nature folk/plant witches/ free spirits to follow them.
Most people who honor the seasonal holidays have eschewed rules and dogma in so many ways. They’re not looking to invite new rules & dogma into their lives.
Why do some of the holidays have two names (e.g. “Summer Solstice” and “Litha'“)?
The words “Solstice” and “Equinox” depict an astronomical event, a specific point in the relationship between the Sun and the Earth.
I use the phrases “Summer Solstice” etc. to depict the holidays because they are widely understood. So little of what I do is “widely understood” that I hold on to whatever I can.
However, “Litha” is actually the more traditional name for Summer Solstice, as “Mabon” is the more traditional name for Autumnal Equinox — in the northern European tradition, that is.
And in some situations, different northern European cultures and languages had different names for the holidays, which makes sense. This is why some people say “Lammas” and some say “Lugnasadh.” “Lugnasadh” is the Gaelic term, whereas “Lammas” is the English term.
I have no doubt that every, or nearly every, culture has its own names for these holidays, but I don’t know them so I’m not going to speak on that here.
How do you celebrate the holidays?
Everyone celebrates the holidays differently. Some people cook certain meals or bake special treats. Some people go for a hike or set intentions. Some people gather with a coven and have a formal ceremony.
I celebrate each holiday differently. On Winter Solstice, my fave, I take a whole day of quietude, reflection, and mindful activity. I most certainly do not do that on Summer Solstice.
Here are a few things I do on every holiday:
My friends and I gather to host a seasonal circle. In the circles we discuss the energy of the season, we go on shamanic journeys, we share what’s going on in our lives, and we set intentions for the season to come. You are welcome to come to a circle! Learn more here.
I journal. I have a whole big check-in with where I’m at in life, how I’m feeling, and where I want to be going. I decided how I want to focus my energy in the weeks to come.
I tune in to nature, real hard. I go for a long, quiet walk. I notice the trees. I notice the plants. I listen for the insects and the wind. I sit with the river. I taste the air. I tune in to what nature is doing, and I reflect on how I can align myself with that energy.
How can I celebrate the seasonal holidays?
You’re welcome to join us for a circle on the farm!
For more ideas and inspiration, I create a class for each holiday called “Potions & Practices” which gives you rituals, activities, and herbal brews that align you with the energy of each season.
To check out Potions and Practices for Summer Solstice, click here.
What’s the point?
I am about to write a whole long post about this. Stay tuned.
What about you?
Do you celebrate the seasonal holidays? If so, how? AND, most importantly — which is your favorite?? Tell me below!