More on May Day, More or Less

Last week Tuesday was May Day. I instructed you all on May Day festivities, such as the May Pole Dance, the Haymarket Riot or Massacre, depending on what side you were on, socialist parades, and what not.

I mentioned that it was also the major Celtic pagan holiday of Beltane, a spring fertility festival. Now, most of the old pagan world had their spring festival on the first day of spring, or scheduled it to correlate the spring equinox with the full moon, like the pagan holiday of Easter.

The Celts were a bit odd about their holiday scheduling, though. Beltane is about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Their other three big holidays were likewise halfway between equinoxes and solstices. All four, in order of their celebration were:

Imbolg, which was around February second.

Beltane, which, if you’ve paying any kind of attention, you already know the date of. Although it was actually more like on May 5th.

Lughnasadh, which was around August 1st.

And lastly, was Samhain, which was around November 1st.

The holidays based the sun’s position are referred to as quarter days. It is in dispute as to whether the Celts celebrated them. They certainly knew about them. There’s enough old standing stones and circles with equinoctial and solsticial alignments to show that. The Celts’ holidays are called cross quarter days.

Much of the ancient world had their big holidays smack dab on the equinoxes and solstices. These Celtic holidays were based more on the actual cycles of living things.

Imbolg, at the beginning of February, was about when the sheep would start birthing lambs. It was also the beginning of the light, bright half of the year. Christians scarfed this holiday up as Candlemas, or the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, or of the Presentation of the Child Jesus. Take your pick.

Beltane was when plants really started flowering, trees popped out leaves, and crops began to sprout from the ground. The Christians pretty much left this one alone, possibly because of the poles with knobs on the end being a bit to obvious a metaphor.

Lughnasadh was when you first began harvesting crops. This became the Christian holiday of the festival of St. Peter’s Chains. The church pulled a real stretcher on this one.

Samhain was the end of harvesting and the start of the dark half of the year. This became All Saints’ day, of course.

Modern pagans, apparently wanting to make sure they’ve got all their gods and goddesses bases covered, make a big shebang out of all the quarter and cross quarter holidays. Or maybe they just like partying.

First shared on the Squatcher’s Lounge Podcast:

For the reading impaired, an audio version of this quasi theory may be found here:

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