A Moveable Feast
For some this expression may bring to mind Hemingway’s memoirs, published posthumously in 1964. He used that expression to refer to his time in Paris, but was inspired by a term used for holy days for which the calendar date is not fixed, such as Easter in the Christian calendar and many holy dates in Jewish and Muslim traditions and those using lunar-solar calendars. In the Celtic world, the four fire festivals of Samhain, Imbolg, Bealtaine and Lúnasa are actually moveable (aka movable) feasts although they also have established traditional dates.
In the Northern Hemisphere, many celebrate Samhain — meaning “Summer’s End” (and, by default, Winter’s Beginning) in various Gaelic languages — and considered it the beginning of a new year that for many begins at sunset on October 31st through to sunset on November 1st . That is now considered the traditional date. In the Southern Hemisphere, the celebrations traditionally begin at sunset April 30th through to sunset on May 1st.
In the original cosmology of the Celts, the year was divided into two halves only: the Geamh (aka Gam), the Dark Half, which began at Samhain and was the beginning of the year, and Samh (aka Sam), the Light Half, which began at Bealtaine.
But it that the only date? Not at all!
The Equinox and Solstice dates are precise each year, as they are based on astronomical events. But the cross-quarter dates (the midpoints between Equinoxes and Solstices, and vice-versa) are marked in different ways such as astronomically, by lunar phases or by markers that told our ancestors, and us, that summer was definitely over and the new year was beginning.
The dates for them were not fixed precisely but reflected what was happening in their world. Samhain was often celebrated as the last crops were harvested and the grounds prepared for the following spring. The cattle and other livestock were brought from their summer pastures, and returned to the farm or village for slaughter.
As a cross-quarter date (the midpoint between an Equinox and a Solstice), some choose to celebrate Samhain on the precise date (sometimes referred to as the “true” date) between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, which in 2021 is:
- Northern Hemisphere: November 7th at 04:50 UTC per Archaeoastronomy.com (bookmarked for 2021, and showing time zones around the globe). For those in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the “true” date for Bealtaine
- Southern Hemisphere celebrated Samhain on May 5th @ 16:36 Australian Eastern Time per Archaeoastronomy.com (bookmarked for 2021, and showing time zones around the globe).
Some choose to celebrate on the Full Moon closest to the traditional date, which in 2021 fell on October 20th, or even the Full Moon of November 19th (which is also the time of the Leonid meteor showers).
Many celebrate on “Lunar Samhain”, the NEW Moon in Scorpio, which in 2021 falls on November 4th @ 21:14 UTC for those in the Northern Hemisphere, while those in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate Lunar Bealtaine.
I tend to honour all the dates for the Fire Festivals, as these are the most important celebrations in what we now call the Celtic or Pagan Wheel of the Year. And it is likely that my Celtic ancestors also chose not to celebrate these festivals for one day only. Their Fire Festival celebrations often lasted several days. And I tend to celebrate each of these festivals as a Season, as their initiatory energy guides our soul work and practices throughout.
Choose the date that works best for you! All are times of reflection and new beginnings.