The Celtic Festivals – Earth-based seasonal events

pumpkin harvest in autumn. Photo by Donna L. Long
pumpkin harvest in autumn. Photo by Donna L. Long

I follow the Celtic agricultural festival days because they focus on Earth-based rhythms. It works for a gardener like me. We humans use a mishmash of ways to mark the cycle of seasons and the passage of days. We use solar, lunar, astronomical, meteorological and climatological reference points.  I have a post when clears up the confusion between astronomical and meteorological seasonal calendars,

Along with solstices and equinoxes, the Celtic festivals make up the agricultural year.

  • Imbolc – the beginning of spring
  • May Day – the beginning of summer
  • Lammas – the beginning of autumn
  • Samhain – the end of the harvest
Agricultural Seasons Approximate date/Northern
Hemisphere
Approximate date/Southern
Hemisphere
US/Celtic Holidays and Festivals
Beginning of Spring February 1 August 1 Groundhog Day/ Imbolc
Spring Equinox March 21, or 22 September 21 or 22 Spring Equinox
Beginning of Summer May 1 November 1 May Day/Beltane
Summer Solstice June 21 or 22 December 21 or 22 Summer Solstice – Mid-Summer
Beginning of Fall (Autumn) August 1 February 1 First Fruits/Harvest Begins/Lughnasadh
Autumnal Equinox September 21 or 22 March 20 or 21 Autumnal Equinox/
Beginning of Winter November 1 May 1 All Hollow’s Eve/Harvest’s End
Winter Solstice December 21 or 22 June 21 or 22 Winter Solstice/MidWinter/Yule/

 

Imbolc Celtic Festival – The Beginning of Spring

Imbolc is a Celtic festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on 1 or 2 February (or 12 February, according to the Old Calendar) in the northern hemisphere and 1 August in the southern hemisphere. These dates fall about halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.

Imbolc is usually celebrated when the first stirrings of spring are felt, or on the full moon that falls closest to this time.

The holiday was, and for many still is, a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring.

Celebrations often involved hearth fires, special foods (butter, milk, and bannocks, for example), divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permits.

Imbolc is traditionally a time of weather prognostication and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens. This is a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.

  • Related to: Candlemas, Groundhog Day
  • Observed by: Gaels (Irish, Scottish, and Manx people), Neopagans (Celtic Reconstructionists, Neo-Druids and Wiccans)

Dates:

  • 
February 1 or 2 in the northern hemisphere
  • 
August 1st the southern hemisphere

More about Imbolc – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbolc

Spring Equinox

Day and night are equal lengths, at about twelve hours each. The Earth does not point toward or away from the sun. On this date, the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west.

Dates:

  • March 20 or 21 in Northern hemisphere
  • September 20 or 21 in Southern hemisphere

Beltane Celtic Festival -The Beginning of Summer

Beltane is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun’s progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice. It is the traditional first day of summer in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.

Beltane marked the beginning of summer and was linked to similar festivals held elsewhere in Europe.

The date for this midpoint varies from year to year between May 5th or May 7th.

The practice of decking the May Bush/Dos Bhealtaine with flowers, ribbons, garlands and colored eggshells is found among the Gaelic diaspora, most notably in Newfoundland, and in some Easter traditions on the East Coast of the United States. Celebrations included lighting bonfires, making ‘May boughs’ or ‘May bushes’, dancing, singing, feasting.

  • Also called: Irish: (Lá) Bealtaine, Scottish Gaelic: (Là) Bealltainn, in Manx : (Laa) Boaltinn/Boaldyn
  • Related to: May Day, Calan Mai, Walpurgis Night
  • Observed by: Gaels, Irish people, Scottish people, Manx people, Neopagans

Dates:

  • May 1 in the northern hemisphere
  • October 31 in the southern hemisphere

More about Beltane – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltane

 

Summer Solstice

This solstice signals the mid-point of the summer. The sun has reached the highest point in the sky and today is the longest day of the year. It also has the shortest night.

After today, the days grow shorter, until the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year.

Date:

  • June 21 or 22 in the Northern hemisphere
  • December 21 or 22 in the Southern hemisphere

When is Hurricane Season? 

The Summer Nature Journal 

My first harvest from the new garden plot.
My first harvest from the new garden plot.

Lughnasadh Celtic Festival – The Beginning of the Harvest

Lughnasadh is a cross-quarter harvest festival halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. This traditional Gaelic holiday celebrated on August 1st in the northern hemisphere and February 1st in the southern hemisphere.

Celtic Reconstructionists who follow Gaelic traditions tend to celebrate Lughnasadh at the time of first fruits, or on the full moon that falls closest to this time. In the Northeastern United States, this is often the time of the blueberry harvest, while in the Pacific Northwest the blackberries are often the festival fruit.

In Gaelic Ireland, Lughnasadh was a favored time for handfastings — trial marriages that would generally last a year and a day, with the option of ending the contract before the new year, or later formalizing it as a more permanent marriage. Festival celebrations included Offering of First Fruits, Bonfires, Feasting, and Handfasting.

  • Also called: Lúnasa (Modern Irish), Lùnastal (Scottish Gaelic), Luanistyn (Manx Gaelic); Lammas (England); Calan Awst (Wales)
  • Observed by: Historically: Gaels
Today: Irish people, Scottish people, Celtic neo-pagans

Dates:

  • August 1 in the Northern hemisphere
  • February 1 in the Southern hemisphere

More on Lughnasadh – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lughnasadh

The Autumn Nature Journal 

 

Autumn Equinox

The term equinox comes from the Latin and means “equal night”. On the equinoxes, the Sun is directly above the Earth’s equator. Day and night are of equal length all over the planet. The world receives twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. 

On this date, the Sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west. It is a good day to place a landmark at the exact spot of sunrise and setting to mark the east and west directions. 

The season is called, “Fall” in areas where leaves “fall” from the trees.
After this day, the northern hemisphere begins to tilts away from the Sun.

Dates:

  • September 20 or 21 in the Northern hemisphere
  • March 20 or 21 in the Southern hemisphere

The Autumnal Equinox begins the cold months. During the colder months, the North Pole is at its greatest tilt away from the Sun. Nature in Autumn: An Overview

Harvest Moon in night sky (iStock photo)

 

Harvest Moon in the night sky (iStock photo)

Samhain Celtic Festival – The End of the Harvest

The medieval Gaelic festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”. It was celebrated over the course of several days. It had some elements of a Festival of the Dead.

Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. The festival includes celebrations include bonfires, guising (disguising oneself in fancy dress), divination, apple bobbing, and feasting.

The date of Samhain was associated with the Roman Catholic All Saints’ Day (and later All Souls’ Day) from at least the 8th century. And both the secular Gaelic and the Catholic liturgical festival have influenced the secular customs now connected with Halloween.

Three Correct Samhain Pronunciations

  • How to pronounce Samhain in Irish Gaelic: Sow-in
  • How to pronounce Samhain in Welsh: Sow-een
  • How to pronounce Samhain in Scottish Gaelic: Sav-en
  • Observed by: Historically: Gaels; Today: some Irish people, Scottish people, and Celtic neopagans
  • Also called: Samhain (Scottish Gaelic), Sauin (Manx Gaelic), Oíche Shamhna (Irish)

Dates:

  • October 31st in the northern hemisphere
  • April 30th in the southern hemisphere 

More on Samhain – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samhain (Wikipedia)

The moon in a winter sky.
The moon in a winter sky. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Winter Solstice

The Earth is at its maximum tilt away from the Sun. Astronomically, it is the shortest night and longest day of the year. At the Earth’s poles, there is continuous darkness.

Celebrations: feasting, singing, spending time with community, family, and friends.
Other names: Saturnalia (Ancient Rome), Yule, the Longest Night and by other names in other cultures.

Dates:

  • December 20 -22nd in the Northern hemisphere
  • June 20 -21 in the Southern hemisphere

More information on the Winter Solstice is found here. (Wikipedia)

Other winter celebrations: Hanukkah. Kwanzaa, Bodhi Days (Japan), Pancha Ganapati (india)

Seasons Calculator http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/seasons.html

Equinoxes, Solstices and Cross-Quarter Days http://www.archaeoastronomy.com/seasons.html

Circumpolar Stars in the Night Sky

 

 

2 comments

  1. Thank you Donna. I am writing a novel set in a Celtic world and had become confused over the calendar. I had thought that May Day was the first of spring. I live in New Zealand but have early memories of southern England where I was born. A May Day custom was to dress as a chicken and act the laying of an egg. I made a costume of like kind to entertain preschoolers and laid a rugby ball.

    I can now untangle the old names for the full moons for each month, put Beltane in the right place and get on with my writing.

    Rosamund Clancy

    • Hi, Rosamund – You’re very welcome. I ‘m glad I could help a fellow writer.
      as it just so happens. I’m updating and expanding my post on seasons and natural calendars. It should be live tomorrow.
      Yes, here in Philadelphia we have Groundhog Day on February 1st, the equivalent of the British cross-quarter day Candlemas or Imbolc or the beginning of spring.
      Here in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast region of the eastern U.S., our climate (moist temperate climate) is not that far off from Britain. It is similar enough that the old Celtic names work here, too.
      We get so confused because the natural rhythms of the Earth continue to ignore human-made calendars. That is why I stick with the old Celtic and natural events. Thanks for contacting me. Good luck with the rest of your book.

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