As well as celebrating the solstices and equinoxes, our Celtic ancestors celebrated the cross quarter days which are the days that lie half way between and represented times of season change.. These were primarily agricultural festivals, but as they were occasions when the community gathered together they were also times of sacred ritual and social activities.
Imbolc (1st February) saw the beginnings of new life with the start of the lambing season. It is the beginning of new life, the return of the sun’s energy, the sap rising in plants, the source of growth and creativity. For the Celts this energy was represented by the appearance of the maiden goddess Brigid which is why the church now celebrates Candlemass on 2nd February, relating to the Virgin Mary. Brigid is associated with springs and wells, and with poetry and song.
Beltane (1st May) was the beginning of summer when the livestock were moved to upland pasture and were driven between two fires to purify them from disease. It is a celebration of fertility and the joining of male and female energy on all levels, god & goddess, men and women, and in nature. Today it is celebrated as May Day including dancing round the maypole symbolizing the interweaving of male and female energies.
Lugnasad (pr. LOO-nah-sah) 1st August) was the central point of the harvest celebrations when the grain was brought in for safe storage. The goddess is now the earth mother giving birth to her harvest child, the grain. It was also a time for large social gatherings where business and legal agreements could be made and marriages arranged. Today it is more often called lammas meaning loaf mass for the bread made from the freshly ground corn.
Samhain (pr. sow-wen, with sow as in female pig) (1st Nov) was the end of the farming year when the livestock were brought in from the hills. It was the beginning of the dark resting season where there would have been feasting and fires. It was the time of the goddess as crone, of recognizing death and decay, and remembering and honouring ancestors and loved ones who have died. It was a time when the veil between this reality and the world of spirit was felt to be thin and it was the beginning of their year. Halloween, All Saints and All Souls day have their roots in Samhain.