Among the Wiccæ, we speak of the wheel of the year—for the great fire festivals, called Sabbats, held at the “cross-quarters” of the traditional British calendar, immortalized in holidays and university customs and land transactions of the past 1500 years in that island, taken together with the ancient seasonal markers of equinoxes and solstices recorded in stone at Newgrange and Stonehenge and many other sites, which the Wiccæ also celebrate as “lesser Sabbats” or at lunar “esbats” (full moon circles) as mundane life and its tyrannical calendar allows.
At our Greater Sabbats, we raise energy from our circle to assist the Great Mother and the Hornéd Lord in “turning the wheel” of the year.
As the Celtic peoples marked their days to begin from the twilight between sunset and dark, so they marked their years to begin from the midpoint between autumn equinox and winter solstice.
May Eve & May Day, Beltane
At Lammas (Old English for loaf-mass, meaning the gathering at the time of new loaves, just at the time of the grain harvest), tradition called for games of the sort we now call Highland Games—in honor of the solar deity Lugh (whose name is part of the other name for this sabbat, Lughnasadh), a deity revered in myth for his skill at every craft and talent. I here present a tale suited to Lammastide.
Yuletide (winter solstice)
The winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere of Earth) occurs December 21 (give or take a day if you’re fussy about your astronomy). I count that date as Yule proper, and count the days from there to January 1 as the Twelve Days of Yuletide. The Scots celebrate New Year’s Eve & New Year as their own Hogmany, a Celtic take on Twelfth Night. Within those 12 days, the amount of increasing daylight is less than about 1.5 minutes. By the end of the twelve nights, it is possible to see that the sun, the daylight, is beginning to return to the earth even without clocks and timepieces and such—a true cause for celebration at the end of those twelve days.
Lady Day or Spring Festival (spring equinox)
The spring equinox is busy—in life, in husbandry, in agriculture. The March hare is visible in the full moon of the season, and eggs become available as more sun enables hens to begin to lay. (A source of protein after the dark of the year with one’s remaining stock carefully tended to give the next generation, and the last of the salted and smoked meats long since eaten.)
Midsummer (summer solstice)
At the height of the sun’s light, at British (and similar) latitudes the summer solstice gives twice as much daylight as dark. Gardens and fields demand constant maintenance, while the tasks that need doing occupy most of that daylight.
Harvest Home (autumn equinox)
In the USA, our late November “Thanksgiving” reflects a ghost of the autumnal harvest feasts. In the UK, Michaelmas (the feast of St. Michael and all the angels) occurs a few days before the end of September, and is a traditional countryside feast time. The grain harvest is complete, the fruit harvest is in full swing, and seasonal fishing and early hunting (culling the wild herds) give a great plentitude of choice on “the groaning board” (the planks of simple trestle tables that support all the foods at hand.