In my household, it wouldn't be a true Christmas morning without putting on a burning Yule log in the background. But the Yule log, and so many other of our favorite festive traditions, don't stem from the holidays we know and love. Instead, they're ancient features of the pagan holidays that many of our ancestors participated in. Discover the pagan holiday calendar and a few of the ways you can celebrate these holidays on your own!
The Pagan Holiday Calendar & Its 8 Sabbats
Pagans have a complicated reputation, yet you can see remnants of their social and cultural traditions pop up in our holiday festivities today. While no two modern pagans celebrate the major pagan holidays the same way, they do follow an ancient holiday calendar. These eight Sabbats form the Wheel of the Year and mark important seasonal shifts from February to December.
|Date (on or around)
Imbolc (February 2nd)
If you love to party for the sake of partying, Imbolc is one you should mark on your calendars this year. Celebrated between sundown February 1st and February 2nd, the holiday marks the middle point between the winter solstice and spring equinox.
At one time, ancient Celts honored a sacred pagan goddess of fertility and crafts called Brigid on Imbolc. Pagan holidays often imbue the natural world into their festivities, and Imbolc is no different. Fire — used as an offering to Brigid and a symbol of rebirth — is a main feature of this winter holiday. So, modern Wiccans and pagans who observe Imbolc often incorporate fire into their celebrations. From lighting a major bonfire in the night to burning a small Brigid effigy made out of wheat or corn, there are many small ways you can participate.
Ostara (March 21st)
Ostara, the Spring Equinox, falls on or around March 21st. When honoring the Spring Equinox, pagans embrace themes of fertility and rebirth. Spring should be on the horizon, and with it will come new life — for both you and the natural world around you.
Given how greatly the seasons dictated daily life thousands of years ago, pagans were urged to do everything they could to ensure a bountiful harvest. Honoring the natural world was one way they could eke out control in an unpredictable environment.
Thankfully, we can enjoy all the fun festivities without the fear of destroying our crop with an ill-timed sneeze. As you look towards this fresh start, commemorate the day by greeting the sunrise or planting a seedling. Mark your rebirth by cultivating one of Mother Nature’s own.
Beltane (May 1st)
If Ari Aster’s Midsommar lit your little pastel aesthetic heart on fire, then Beltane is the holiday you’ve been waiting for. On May 1st or May Day, people rushed outside to participate in celebrations and activities that centered on stirring up some fertility — for the land, for the family, etc.
Ever heard of dancing around the maypole? This is where that delightful tradition comes from. On top of decking the land out in flowers, ribbons, and dancing, pagans passed cattle and other livestock between two bonfires in belief that the smoke would purify them and bring greater fertility to the entire herd.
Given that this holiday marks the start of the summer season, an evening bonfire with music and merriment is a great way for modern pagans to relish in the festive energy. While you’re at it, might as well convert your basketball hoop into a maypole and weave some flowers in your hair!
Litha (June 21st)
Litha occurs on June 21st and rings in the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. For thousands of years, people have celebrated the summer solstice in some way. Celts would light hilltop bonfires while more traditional believers celebrated the Holly King’s dark triumph over the Oak King’s sunlight.
Summer solstice celebrations center around introspection and levity. Some people find meditating is a great way to channel the sabbat’s energy. So get outside and soak up the last rays of summer while you can!
Every year, thousands of people flock to Stonehenge to celebrate Litha, and you can too!
Lughnasadh (August 1st)
If you’re Irish, then you probably know Lughnasadh well, seeing as it’s an official holiday in Ireland. Celebrated on August 1st, this sabbat is all about marking the start of the harvesting season. Also called Lammas, Lughnasadh occurs smack dab in the middle of the summer solstice and fall equinox.
Bread lovers, rejoice! A foundational tradition on Lughnasadh is to reap the first grain of the harvest and eat the first loaves made from that grain in the evening. While you probably don’t have a plot of wild grain outside, you probably have a leftover sourdough starter from lockdown days that’ll work just as well.
Mabon (September 21st)
The Fall Equinox, Mabon, is celebrated on or around September 21st. This celebration was intricately tied to the harvest when ancient pagans pulled in the last of their crops before the big winter freeze. Historic celebrations were similar to those on Lughnasadh since they both honor the harvest. However, Mabon focuses more on giving thanks rather than reveling in the fact that the crop survived. In a way, Mabon is the pagan version of Thanksgiving, and people come together to relish in their health, happiness, and community.
Bread might be the symbol of Lughnasadh, but apples are Mabon’s hallmark. Since many apples ripen in late fall, this is a perfect pick for the mid-fall festivities. Consider making a homemade apple pie or cobbler to serve at your Mabon celebration this year.
Samhain (November 1st)
If you know any of the pagan holidays, it’s probably Samhain. After all, many Samhain traditions live on today in our Halloween celebrations. This holiday marks the end of the growing season and a period where the veil between the other world and ours is at its thinnest.
Ancient pagans, fearing for the monsters or faeries that might breach the veil, would leave out offerings to please them. Meanwhile, the community would build a massive bonfire and take flames from it to light their own hearths.
Nasty creatures weren’t the only things said to walk the world on Samhain. Ancestors were supposed to be able to pass through the veil as well. So, carve out a little time in your late-night Halloween partying to set a plate out for your ancestors to enjoy a slice of your fun, too.
Yule (December 21st)
Yule falls on or around the Winter Solstice (December 21st) every year. Like most of the eight major pagan holidays on the Wheel of the Year, this festival celebration has ancient Scandinavian roots. Originally called Jol, ancient pagans marked the passage of time — when the late nights started to fade. Yet, by the 10th century, Yule and Christian Christmas were merged together, with the latter holiday overtaking Yule within a few centuries.
Today, people celebrate Yule for being a moment of rebirth and transformation. Some of the most common fixtures of Yule that you probably recognize: the Yule tree, the Yule log, mistletoe, and wreaths. Even the Christmas color palette (green, red, gold, silver) comes from Yule tradition.
One of the most common ways to commemorate Yule is by decorating a Yule log. Grab whatever kind of log you can get and some natural herbs, spices, and flora to tie or glue to your log.
Party With the Pagans
The pagans sure knew how to party, and you can party with them, too! Grab your calendars and mark these pagan holidays so you don't miss out on any of the historic, raucous fun.