I wasn’t born Wiccan – not even Pagan. So, when I found Wicca and placed my foot upon its path as a serious practitioner I found that trying to adjust to the new holidays (holy days) was complicated by both the national calendar we function on day by day and the family and friends who still celebrated the holidays I’d grown up with. I wasn’t looking to change anyone else’s celebrations, but I was hoping that they’d understand that I was changing mine. Wrong!!!
Even though the settlers who came to this country did so because of religious persecution (amongst other reasons), we live in a country that is SO set upon being Christian, one has to wonder how other minorities manage here. Workplaces, stores and even greeting card companies predominantly cater to the Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas. No one has a Hanukkah sale or a Lammas/Lughnasadh sale to promote those holidays. If you work , you’d never get a paid holiday for Ramadan or Imbolg/Candlemas. Greeting card companies can’t even seem to create a good selection of cards for those who want to say “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” because they celebrate Kwanzaa or Yule and know that others are celebrating their own holidays at this time. I’ve learned you just have to be pretty darned adaptable!
I think being adaptable is the key to us all living on one planet and allowing each other our beliefs and practices. There should be no need for any one of us or any group of us to feel that everyone has to convert to our beliefs in order verify the validity of our practices.
I guess that’s why, when I found out the history behind the new holy-days I would be celebrating, I found that history both amusing and sad. Wicca’s roots are those of a nature religion because of its beginnings in agricultural societies. This holds true for other Pagan spiritual paths. They live close to the Earth – honor and revere it; see themselves as part of it and stewards of it. When Christianity felt the need to convert the Pagans, they had a difficult time, even with threats of death for non-compliance, because the people and the Earth were one. The only thing to do was take as many of the Pagan holidays as possible and give them Christian connotations in order to bring Pagans “into the fold”.
Examples of this can be found in Easter, whose name is derived from the goddess Ostara or Eostre, a form of Ishtar or Astarte. Did you know that the reason the date of the celebration for Easter keeps changing each year is because it is based on the formula of the first Sunday after the Full Moon following the Vernal Equinox? Yup, it’s true. Go look at any calendar. Find the Vernal Equinox, then look for the Full Moon following it and on the first Sunday afterwards you’ll find Easter every time.
Even the Easter egg is pre-Christian. Some cultures believe it represents the World Egg laid by the Goddess and split open by the heat of the Sun (the God). Even the colorizing of the eggs is thought to come from the Druids who colored eggs scarlet in the Sun’s honor.
Let’s talk Christmas. The idea of holding a celebration at the Winter Solstice was so universal in the ancient world that the Christians, seeing the correlation with the “birth of the Son” in the third or fourth century, moved the birth of Jesus from January 6th to December 25th in hopes of diverting the worship of the Sun to the worship of the Son. Remember the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? Count from December 25th to January 6th and you’ll find them!
Other holidays that were renamed or placed close to Pagan/Wiccan holidays include:
Beltane (Beltaine) – also known as Roodmas or Walpurgisnacht which became the Christianized May Day (Pagan Maypole and all). In Celtic tradition, this is one of two great fire festivals, Hallowmas or Samhain being the other. It is also a fertility festival because the belief is that at this time the Great Father impregnates the Great Mother and life and fertility return to the world. There are many great customized connected to this holiday, too many to mention here, but it is worth mentioning that even in its Christianized version, up to the 16th century, this was the month (May) of sexual freedom throughout rural Europe. Marriage bonds were temporarily in abeyance. Interesting, huh?
Summer Solstice – also known as Midsummer’s Eve and Christianized to St. John’s Eve, which is approximately three days later . The primary symbology and celebration here is that of the Oak King (God of the Waxing Year) falling to his brother the Holly King (God of the Waning Year). Here the Goddess’ part is the opposite of her part at Yule. At Yule she gives birth to the Sun and here she presides at his death. At one time, bonfires used to blaze all over Europe to strengthen the weakening Sun.
Lammas or Lughnasadh really was not renamed or Christianized but has its traditions carried on across the USA in the form of state and county fairs. This stems from the tribal gatherings of olden times where a mixture of business, horse racing, athletic contests and rituals took place. It is seen as the first harvest. The word Lammas is said to be derived from “loaf-mass”, the time when the first corn is harvested.
Autumn Equinox which became Michaelmas in honor of the “birthday” of the Archangel Michael on September 29th. This is considered a time of repose. It is a time of thanksgiving for the abundant harvest and emphasis is placed on the future return of that abundance. The bird representing this holy day is the swan – a symbol of the immortality of the soul.
Hallowmas also known as Samhain and Halloween which the Christian Church tried to make All Saint’s Day by moving it from May 13th first to October 31st and then November 1st. This was originally a festival of fire and the dead. It is seen as the time when the veil between the living and the “dead” is the thinnest and we are able to communicate with them, and they with us, more easily. This is the final harvest. Samhain means “Summer’s end” and the winter half of the year is seen as beginning on November 1st. It is the Witch’s New Year to many.
And then finally, there’s Candlemas, also known as Imbolg or the Feast of Brigid and also Lupercalia. Christianized, it became the Purification of the Virgin Mary. The Celtic Imbolg means “in the belly” and represents the first stirrings of Spring “in the belly” of Mother Earth. Seems kind of obvious why Groundhog’s Day is also that same day. Something that lives “in the belly” should be able to tell when the first stirring of Spring are occurring!
These are very brief overviews of the holy-days I now celebrate, and have done so for well over 35 years. Even with the knowledge that they are disguised in many of the mainstream holidays, I hope and pray there will come a time when the holidays celebrated and loved by all faiths will be recognized and respected by others. It truly is a test of the Tenet of Tolerance sometimes to remember that the vehemence with which others promote their sacred days while proudly excluding yours has nothing to do with you. It’s about their desperate need for everyone to believe the way they do in order to feel secure in their own spiritual path. In this moment, they have no choice. Their faith has not brought them faith, it has brought them doubt. I hope that whatever spiritual path you walk, whatever your personal beliefs may be, that you can find it within yourself to allow others their beliefs without prejudice but rather with joy. We are all children of the Creator, by whatever name we choose to call Him or Her.
May the Light of Spirit illuminate your Path this, and every, day.