Did you know that the Fire Festivals (Samhain, Imbolg, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh) originally had no clear fixed dates, unlike the Sun-based festivals (Winter & Summer Solstice, Spring & Autumn Equinox) which fell on astronomically observable phenomena?
Samhain and Bealtaine were the “hinges” of the Celtic two-fold year. Bealtaine essentially marked the beginning of Summer and Samhain the beginning of Winter, Imbolg spring and Lughnasadh autumn.
And those events were celebrated based on observing the world around them, and the environmental markers that said “Yes, it’s Winter” (Samhain, roughly pronounced as sow-en) and “Yes, it’s Summer” (Bealtaine, roughly pronounced as bee-yowl-ten-neh), etc.
For instance, at Bealtaine (now celebrated on May 1st in the Northern Hemisphere), my Celtic ancestors moved their livestock to the summer fields and at Samhain (now celebrated November 1st in the Northern Hemisphere), they returned them to their winter paddocks.
And remember that much of this lore was passed on orally, from parent to child, from bard/priest to their village. It was only later, in the monasteries of the Catholic Church, that these traditions — and songs, tales, and histories — were written down by the monks, many of whom were NOT Irish speakers. Furthermore, we don’t know what perspective they may have added to the tales!
But what marks the start of Summer and Winter for you?
Many many factors have influenced what we now think of as the “traditional” dates of these festivals — February 1st (Imbolg), May 1st (Bealtaine), August 1st (Lughnasadh) and November 1st (Samhain) — including the shift from the Gregorian calendar to the Julian calendar which added roughly 15 days to the date… and the need in our culture to now exactly when to celebrate! And let us not forget that the Celtic day begins at sunset, so Samhain would actually begin at sunset on October 31st.
So, know that it’s okay to let go of observing the “true” dates (the precise midpoints between the various equinoxes and solstices, such as Samhain which is the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, November 7th this year) and “traditional” dates.
Celebrate these Fire Festivals when it’s right for you… when you feel the seasons manifest in your locale!
As always, I will choose to celebrate Samhain “season”… starting tomorrow and up to the arrival of the Leonid meteor showers in mid-November, when it is said that the veils between the worlds close!