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The Wheel of the Year


English: Wheel of the Year with Fire Festivals and Quarter Festivals, Neopagan holidays: Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh, Mabon, Samhain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The major Pagan holidays revolve around the cycles of nature and agriculture. Most of us refer to this as “The Wheel of the Year”. Because there are many different Pagan traditions, there are almost as many opinions as to when the Wheel begins.

Yule (December 21 or thereabouts): Roughly coinciding with the Christian Christmas, this festival marks the longest night and the shortest day of the year. Thereafter the days begin to grow longer, and thus Yule has become a festival of rebirth. As such, many traditions have chosen Yule to signify the beginning of the New Year

Imbolc (February 1-2): Coinciding with the Christian Candlemas, this festival marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, though the weather usually doesn’t feel terribly spring-like! At this time, it has become obvious that the days are lengthening, and there are signs that life is beginning to stir beneath the soil.

Ostara (March 21, or thereabouts): Very roughly coinciding with the Christian Easter, this festival marks the spring equinox, when day and night are of equal length. Thereafter, the days steadily grown longer than the nights, making Ostara the beginning of the light half of the year.

Beltane (April 30-May 1): This festival celebrates the fact that spring is in full swing and summer is just around the corner! This is the time to light a bonfire, dance around the Maypole, and celebrate the fertility of the earth.

Litha (June 21 or thereabouts): This festival marks the summer solstice, the longest day, and the shortest night of the year. Many places have Midsummer fairs around this time.

Lammas (August 1): This festival celebrates the first harvest of the year, typically the grain harvest. Such a celebration makes sense, given the importance of grain in human history. The name “Lammas” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “Hlafmesse” (loaf mass), which makes it an excellent time to make bread and give thanks.

Mabon (September 21 or thereabouts): Roughly coinciding with the Jewish Rosh Hashanah, this festival celebrates the second harvest of the year, and marks the autumn equinox, when day and night are of equal length once again. Thereafter, the nights grow steadily longer than the days, making Mabon the beginning of the dark half of the year.

Samhain (October 31): Coinciding with the Christian All Hallow’s Eve, more widely known as Halloween, this festival celebrates the third harvest of the year, the blood harvest, when it was customary to slaughter whatever livestock wasn’t going to be overwintered. Given the nature of this harvest, it is also a time for remembering those in our lives who have died. Many pagans perform divinations on Samhain. Celtic traditions hold that Samhain is the beginning of the New Year.

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