The Wheel of the Year: Pagan Holidays at a Glance

In Pagan traditions, there are a series of holidays, often referred to as the Wheel of the Year. They are often depicted on a physical wheel to represent the concept that time is forever moving and each season, sabbat, and holiday will come around again. There are many holidays throughout the year; but for this article the focus will be on the eight major holidays that accompany most modern day Pagan celebrations. These holidays will include: Yule (the Winter Solstice), Imbolc (or Imbolg, also known as Brigid’s Day), Ostara (the Spring Equinox), Beltane (May Day), Litha (the Summer Solstice), Lughnasadh (or Lammas), Mabon, and Samhain.

Since we are approaching the Winter Solstice in our current calendar, we shall start there. Yule is celebrated on the 21st day of December, or the 22nd, depending on the year. This coincides with the Winter Solstice, which is known to be the longest night and, therefore, the shortest day of the year. The Solstice marks the first day of the Winter season. This is celebration is also often referred to as the festival of lights because it is the darkest time of the year, and many choose to display an array of lights to welcome the light into their lives. At this time, many Pagans focus on new beginnings, i.e. bringing in the new and getting rid of the old. Many often choose to celebrate the darkness, or the light, and some choose to celebrate both.  There are many different ways that Yule is celebrated, this will be spoken of, in detail, in our next article in this series. 

The next holiday depicted on the wheel is Imbolc, or Imbolg. This holiday is also called  St. Brigid’s Day in some traditions. Imbolc traditionally marks the first day of spring, and is observed on the 1st of February each year. It is the holiday that is between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. This is often the holiday where the home and land are blessed for the coming of warmer weather and the planting of crops. 

Following Imbolc is Ostara, or the Spring Equinox. This holiday is observed on the 20th of March, or the 21st, which is the first day of spring. This holiday is one of the two times during the year where day and night are equal in length. For many in the Pagan community, this is a time to celebrate the Spring Maiden and the Horned God. This is considered a time of fertility and a time where Mother Earth is coming back to life, flowers have begun to bloom and the trees are budding. Some Practitioners also choose to focus on the Goddess Ostara (or Eostre) and the stories surrounding her, which may be celebrated with the placing of symbols such as rabbits, eggs and flowers on one’s altar.

Beltane, or May Day, is the next holiday on the Wheel of the Year. Beltane is observed on the 1st of May. On the Wheel, it is the holiday between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Traditionally, this is the time to embrace the fire and to encourage growth. This was a time when the crops and cattle would be blessed and growth would be encouraged. Beltane is the first holiday of the warmer months, and often potential mates were introduced, or marriages took place. 

Litha, or the Summer Solstice, is the holiday following Beltane. Litha is also sometimes referred to as Midsummer. It takes place on either June 20th or 21st, and it marks the first day of the Summer season. This is known to be the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Often the warmth of day is celebrated at this time, and the return of the darker counterpart to day. This is a time for love, energy and abundance. The world is warm and full of life, which is what is celebrated at this time. Often a bonfire is lit during celebrations for this holiday. 

Lughnasadh, or Lammas, follows Litha (the Summer Solstice) on the Wheel. This holiday is observed on the 1st of August and marks the beginning of the harvest season. This is a time to bless the crops and focus on a bountiful harvest. This is often when the first foods are harvested from one’s garden(s) or field(s), and preparations for the coming Winter season take place. 

The second to last holiday we will go over is Mabon, this holiday marks the first day of the Autumn season and is observed on the 21st of September. Mabon also known as the Fall Equinox. It is the second of two days each year where day and night are equal in length. Mabon represents the second and final harvest of the year. This is the time to ensure that all is made ready for the approaching colder months before the ground and Earth become barren. This is a time to feast, and to celebrate the good harvests from the crops of the year. 

The final holiday depicted on the Wheel is Samhain, also known as All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween), or The Day of the Dead, and is generally observed on October the 31st through November 1st. Some Pagans may choose to celebrate this holiday on the 31st of October to coincide with Halloween, while others may choose to celebrate on November 1st. This is the holiday that is between the Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice, and marks the end of the harvest season. This is also a time when the veil is at its thinnest and many people feel closest to their ancestors. Communicating with one’s ancestors is generally easiest around this time. This is often a time when the dead are remembered and tribute to them is paid. 

Many of us in the Pagan community long to celebrate these holidays with our loved ones. However, many may face the fact that their loved ones are not Pagan and may be afraid to, or do not know how to tell family and friends of their beliefs and practices simply because their loved ones holdfast to Christianity, or another faith, and may not understand. Although it can be difficult for one to tell his/her loved ones that he/she walks a different path, if one looks at the holidays from a logical standpoint, then the similarities between the different faiths and coinciding holidays can be brought forth into light. This can be of great assistance with respect to finding common ground and an understanding of one’s beliefs.   

One can see from this article that there are eight holidays that most Pagans celebrate. Four of these holidays are centered around natural, or celestial events (Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Fall Equinox, Winter Solstice). These same holidays mark the beginning of each season. The remaining four holidays are midpoints between each of the four seasons/celestial events. These holidays also coincide with harvesting practices, like what many would have utilized in earlier times, which can in fact help link us to past relations. When explained in this manner, rather than focusing on what one doesn’t believe, family and friends may be more accepting.

~ Sara Lynn