Beginning at sunset tonight, we celebrate the traditional date for Samhain in the northern hemisphere and Bealtaine in the southern hemisphere. Also known as cross-quarter dates (the midpoints between Equinoxes and Solstices, and vice-versa) and fire festivals, they marked new seasons for our Celtic ancestors.
The dates were likely not fixed precisely as are the now traditional dates, but reflected what was happening in their world with respect to the cycle of birth-growth-harvest and rest.
Samhain (meaning “summer’s end”) marked the beginning of the dark half of the year, and a new annual cycle of birth-growth-harvest-rest in the wheel of the year. It was celebrated as the final crops were harvested and the grounds prepared for planting in the following spring. Cattle and other livestock were brought from their summer pastures, and returned to the farm or village for slaughter. Bealtaine marked the beginning of the light half of the year, a time to move the livestock to summer pastures, and tend the fields and herds.
When are those festivals celebrated now?
Some to choose to celebrate on the traditional date, one adopted and observed each year at the same time, from sunset October 31st to sunset November 1st.
Some choose to celebrate on the precise date (the exact midpoint between the Equinox and the Solstice, sometimes referred to as the “true” date), which in 2023 is November 7 @ 16:18 UTC.
Many celebrate on the lunar date for Samhain (northern hemisphere) or Bealtaine (southern hemisphere), marked by the New Moon in Scorpio, which in 2023 falls on November 13th@ 09:27 UTC.
And others celebrate on what just might be the original date! And it might surprise you: late November!
Based on the ancient Celtic Coligny calendar (a bronze plaque made in the second century CE and named for Coligny, France, where it was found in the late 19th century), and with adjustments between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, it is likely that Samhain was originally celebrated in late November, around the time of the Pleiades constellation rising or culmination (i.e., peak height in the night sky).
In 2023, the culmination falls on November 18. Coincidentally, this is also around the time of the Leonid meteor showers (17-18 November in 2023), which were said to close the Samhain festivities (and the veil between the worlds) in older times.