Celtic festivals


My own life, and my writings, are underpinned by the old pre-Christian calendar and its eightfold festival rhythms. Many of my courses take this into account, one way and another, too, so it seems important to include these quarter-dates and cross-quarter dates here.

The year in the old pre-Christian calendar traditionally began with Samhain, what we now call Hallowe’en, over the 24 hours of November 1st.

Since I’ve only just decided to post these festivals, I’m beginning with tonight, 20th December, moving over into 21st, the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere (Celtic festivals start at midnight). I shall post the others little by little.

Each date is basically a solar festival: the equinoxes mark the times when day and night are of equal length, the solstices where there is maximum daylight or maximum dark.

In between, and arguably of more significance in the old British calendar, are the cross-quarter Fire Festival dates exactly midway between the solstice and the equinox.

The equinoxes, unlike the solstices, vary a little each year. This is because basically the earth’s orbit around the sun takes 365¼ days. This is why we have a leap year every four years, otherwise there would be a gradual drift of date through the seasons. Generally, the equinox occurs about six hours later each year for four years, when it will then ‘jump’ backwards by a day to create a leap year.

The Christian church, in converting the pagans, adopted their solar festivals but moved them just a little. In the Celtic tongue, the names of the 8 festivals, the quarter and cross-quarter dates, beginning with Samhain, are below:

November 1st Samhain (All Souls/All Saints in the Christian calendar)
December 21st Alban Arthan, winter solstice (Christmas Day, 25th December)
February 2nd Imbolc (Candlemas, February 2nd)
March 21st–23rd Alban Eilir, spring equinox/Oestre (Easter; and Lady Day, Annunciation, 25th March, with Mothering Sunday falling on nearest Sunday)
May 1st Beltain or Beltane (May Day)
June 21st Alban Hefin, summer solstice (Midsummer Day, June 24th)
August 1st Lughnasadh (Lammas)
September 21st–23rd Alban Elfed, autumn equinox (Michaelmas Day September 29th)

What will follow for each festival is my own personal relationship to it, occasionally accompanied by poems or stories.