There are 8 Wiccan holidays throughout the year: Imbolc (1 February), Ostara (20 March), Beltane (1 May), Litha (24 June), Lammas (1 August), Mabon (21 September), Samhain (31 October) and Yule (21 December). Each of these holidays has some sort of resemblance to a particular cycle of the Earth or a particular seasonal change in the Earth. For example, Imbolc is traditionally celebrated on the 1st of February every year and represents the coming of the Spring, whereas Lammas acknowledges the beginning of the winter and the end of the harvest. Since the time zones vary from country to country, these celebrations can fall within a 3-day period on either side of the festival date. Although Ostara is celebrated on 20 March for example, some people celebrate it on 18 March and others on 22 March.
The Sabbats are split into Greater and Lesser Sabbats. Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes, also known as quarter holidays. These include Yule, Ostara, Litha, and Mabon. The Lesser Sabbats are rooted in Germanic pagan traditions. The Greater Sabbats on the other hand, also referred to as the fire Sabbats, are rooted in the Celtic or Gaelic pagan traditions. They include Imbolc, Beltane, Lammas and Samhain. In addition to Greater and Lesser Sabbats, Wiccan holidays are also sometimes split between Sun and Moon Sabbats. The Sun Sabbats are based on the position of the Sun throughout the year, and include Yule, Ostara, Litha and Mabon. The other Wiccan holidays are celebrated on full moons and would include Beltane, Imbolc, Lammas and Samhain.
Wiccans celebrate the Wiccan holidays, or 8 Sabbats, in the following order as they appear on the Wheel of the Year. There is no definite agreement in the community on which festival is the starting one, or the last one of the year, but many Witches do celebrate Samhain as the end of a long year, so to some perhaps that would be the final major festival of the year. Again, this is not set in stone, for me personally, I see Yule as the last festival of the year, only because it falls in the last month of a 12-month calendar year and normally it snows this time of the year in the Northern hemisphere and it feels to me like a whole year is being covered in snow ready for a new year to start when the snow melts in the Spring. Anyway, let’s cover a bit more about the meaning behind each festival and some things that Wiccans like to do to celebrate on those days.
Imbolc (1 February)
Imbolc (1 February) is celebrated in February and traditionally marks the first stirrings of Spring. This is normally a good time to do spring cleaning as we can look forward towards a brand-new year ahead.
There are a few different ways in which pagans normally celebrate Imbolc. Some folks like to make what is called a Brigid Cross which is basically a bunch of pliable reeds or twigs, that are twisted into what looks like a very big ‘plus’ math symbol, and can be decorated with pretty ribbons, or any fallen feathers from birds that you may find in your local woods or park. Others like to make what is called a Brigid Doll, which is basically a representation of the goddess Brigid. This is a fun activity for pagan children to get involved in as they can also decorate the doll with a dress, buttons, and so on.
A very simple ritual to do on Imbolc, and this is a great one for a solitary practitioner as well, is to plant seeds at this time of year. Seeds represent the potential for growth, and with each seed you plant into the earth, imagine in your mind what it is that you would like to manifest for the year ahead. You could also bake a cake, traditionally an Imbolc cake would have seeds, and good colours to use for cake decoration would be silver, white or green, or any combination of those. Those colours will work great for decorating your home too. Pagans also enjoy lighting candles during Imbolc and making wishes for their family and friends.
Ostara (20 March)
Ostara (20 March) marks the vernal equinox in some modern pagan traditions, Ostara brings with it new beginnings for the year to come, and has strong associations with spring, new life and fertility.
At this particular time of year spring is upon us, and the regeneration of flowers, plants, trees and life is abundant and wonderfully clear. The end of the winter has come and the beginning of new life has arrived. The sky starts getting brighter, and the temperature starts to slowly warm up. There are signs that change is on its way. The sun, the main source of energy, is beginning to grow in strength.
This is often the time when the sun and the moon can be seen in the sky at the same time. For example, you might see a rising moon early in the morning, while the sun is out. So, the Goddess and God are said to share a complete balance between day and night during this time. In essence we are celebrating the return of the sun God to the skies who brings back life to the lands.
Some things that you can do to celebrate Ostara are, egg hunts, feasting on chocolate shaped as rabbits and eggs (the rabbit and egg are important symbols in Ostara festivities), enjoying hot cross buns and painting of eggshells. A great activity for the whole family is eggshell painting. You take an egg and poke a small hole in it, and drain out the content of the egg. Make sure to store the contents of the eggshell in a small bowl so that you can use it for breakfast or for cooking. Now you can take the eggshell and you can paint a nice base in yellow, or green, blue, white etc. Then paint some beautiful patterns on it, such as long stripes all around the eggshell, or little stars, or small polkadots. This is a fun activity for the whole family to enjoy. Place the eggs inside a little basket with a bit of straw, and give to friends and family as a gift or simply just display on the table for everyone to see and remind you of Ostara. Of course, Ostara egg hunts (same as Easter egg hunts) are always great fun too! Get all the children over, hide a bunch of chocolate eggs in the garden, and then let the children go and find them and collect them. You could make this into a competition, by saying that the child who collects the most eggs wins a special prize. It is also a great time for baking bread, or celebrating Ostara with bread sandwiches, perhaps even a few cakes.
Beltane (1 May)
Beltane (1 May) is traditionally the first day of summer and in England is most commonly held at the beginning of May or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The festival also commonly is a time of courtship rituals and a celebration of our own fertility.
Some great activities for Beltane would include to nurture and boost existing goals that you have set for the year, creating beautiful big bonfires in the outdoors and sitting around it with family and friends (after all Beltane is a fire festival), making garlands, arranging a maypole dance, planting seeds which can represent new dreams and goals for the year ahead and simply just walking in nature enjoying the sun.
Arranging a maypole dance with friends and family and fellow pagans is a great way to celebrate Beltane. You just need to ensure that you have a sturdy pole, and at the top of that, you would tie different coloured ribbons. The traditional colours to use are green, red and white or silver. Green represents growth, abundance and fertility. Red represents strength, fertility, passion and vibrancy. White represents cleansing and clearing and the power to disperse negativity. There are a lot of articles on Internet that describe in detail how to set up a maypole at home. Once it’s been set up, each person in the group will grab a ribbon from the centre of the poll, and everyone will dance around the pole while interweaving the ribbons around the pole. When completed, the poll will be wrapped with the ribbons and will look beautiful.
Making garlands is also a great way to celebrate Beltane, and they can be made from pretty much anything such as flowers and leaves that you have collected at your local woods or park. You could also buy them online, and then you just basically tie them onto a string, or similar type of material, to arrange into beautiful decorations which can be hung from the ceilings of your house, draped over curtain rods, or placed above the hearth of the fireplace, or they can even be hung outside, or in your house, or around your door entrance or even around a tree. It is a great time to be creative.
Beltane is also a fantastic time to do a handfasting (a pagan engagement/wedding). Beltane is known to some as the great wedding of the Goddess and the God, so it is a popular time for pagan handfastings. Another fun activity to do during Beltane is “jumping the broom stick”. Simply lay a broom down on the floor and then let everybody in the group run and take turns jumping over it. To make the activity more fun, have two people hold the broom a little bit off the ground to make it a bit higher and a bit more challenging, or have more than one broom to jump over. Traditionally the broom represented a threshold of a house, and a young couple would jump over it together to represent moving from an old life to a new one.
Litha (24 June)
Litha (24 June) is considered a turning point at which summer reaches its height and the sun shines longest. Traditionally it is celebrated in late June and is the return of the strength of the sun. It is also the celebration of the power of the sun and it honours the longest day of the year.
Litha is also known as the longest day of the year, so it’s a great day to get outdoors and to celebrate the sun and the new season. Building a bonfire is a fantastic way to celebrate Litha, just be sure to follow bonfire safety rules so that no one gets hurt during the festivities. Another great thing to do is to go for a hike to get back in touch with nature and the environment. This can be made into a fun day event and into a picnic for example with the whole family. For the solo practitioner who prefers to go by themselves, it is perfect to just enjoy the quiet and peace, absorb the energy from the trees and the earth, and ground oneself once again. It can also be fun if you are doing a bonfire, to host a small drum circle with some friends, even if you are doing it solo, play a drum by yourself next to a small fire and let the rhythm of the music soothe your soul and help your chakra energy centres to realign. In terms of food festivities, honey forms an important part of the festivities this time of the year, so you could incorporate for example mead, or perhaps a honey cake, as part of your food and drink for the festivities. Puddings or fruit salads with honey poured over are yummy too.
Lammas (1 August)
Lammas (1 August) is the first of the 3 week and harvest festivals, the other two being the autumn equinox and Samhain. On this festival bread is traditionally baked and eaten to symbolise the sanctity and importance of the harvest. It symbolises the first fruits of the harvest.
Lammas day – or “loaf mass” – is traditionally when people celebrate the first wheat harvest in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is the first harvest festival of the season. This festival is often celebrated with feasts that consist of many loaves of bread, and also in particular the baking of fresh bread loaves to enjoy and eat with the family and with friends. Something that is also fun to do, is to take the leaves of a corn on the cob (peel them off the corn), and fashion them into the shape of a doll, called a Grain Mother. In fact, any plants, vegetables and so on that have long leaves can be fashioned into the shape of a Grain Mother (there are some articles on Internet that describe how to make these).
It is a fun activity for children especially. During Lammas it was tradition at this time of the year, for villagers to take a loaf of freshly baked bread into a sacred space (a temple or church) that was made with the first crop. The loaf was then blessed and broken into four pieces with each of the pieces placed at the corner of a barn to protect the newly harvested grain. To put a modern twist on this, you could bake a loaf of bread, and break it into small pieces, and put them into each corner of your garden or house. This can be done just temporarily (after the ritual you can remove the pieces of bread once again) as a small ritual by envisioning in your mind the protection that is being offered from the new harvest. If you can get hold of actual long strands of wheat, you could create small bunches, or bouquets, and tie them with a ribbon to give to friends or family as a gift, or to decorate your home.
Mabon (21 September)
Mabon (21 September) is a modern pagan ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and recognition of the need to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming winter months. It is traditionally held at the end of September. It is a time to complete projects, to clear out old limiting beliefs, and letting go of that which is no longer needed, or wanted, so that winter can offer a time for reflection and peace.
Some pagans celebrate Mabon by enjoying rich feasts with seasonal foods like apples, root vegetables or pomegranates. Many also observe rituals honouring the Goddess’s transition from mother to crown. Some fun things to do are to create an altar (this is particularly fun to do if you don’t already have an altar – and if you do already have one, this could be a good time to revamp it a bit), doing candle magick to ask for blessings (blessings for the year ahead as well as blessings for your “harvest”), doing apple magick (as apples are often harvested in the fall, there are many spells that you could look up on Internet that include apples). Some folks like to slice an apple in half, or horizontally, to reveal a five-pointed star (a pentagram) inside, and use this to decorate foods such as pudding. Or the apple slices can be dried / dehydrated and served as snacks.
Apple dunking is also a good way to celebrate, and is a fun activity for all to enjoy. Just fill a small bucket with water deep enough for someone to dunk their face into, and put a few apples into the bucket to float on top of the water. I am sure most of you have enjoyed this kind of activity in your youth? Each person needs to try and “fish out” as many apples as possible using only their teeth, within a timed limit, such as 30 seconds. As mentioned earlier, this is a great time for the feast of thanksgiving and you should include as many fruits and vegetables as you can get your hands on. Going for a walk with family and friends, or just by yourself, is great as well. You could even do a walking meditation, where you focus on clearing out old negative energies and absorbing new positive radiant energy as you walk along a path. For eating, an apple cake, or apple tart, would be perfect for feasting to celebrate the apple fruit in general for the season.
Samhain (31 October)
Samhain (31 October) is considered by Wiccans to be one of the greatest Sabbats. It is traditionally held at the end of October and is considered by some as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders, friends, pets, and other loved ones who have died.
I don’t think it is difficult to find ideas of what to do for Halloween, since trick or treating is one of the most popular ways to enjoy Halloween (Samhain). This is also the time of year when the veil between the living and the dead is at its weakest, and so is a great time to honour your ancestors and those who have died and were close to you and loved. Whether it be a pet, or parents or a sibling or a friend, it is a good time of the year to honour them and do a small ritual to celebrate memories of them. Another obvious thing, but also incredibly fun activity, is to carve pumpkins. This is quite easy to do and most shops will normally have carving pumpkins available to buy. If not, you can always go to some of your local farms in the community and see if they can provide you with some. Traditional fruits to enjoy for the festivities this time of year are apples, nuts, pumpkins and berries. It can be fun to decorate the house for Halloween and also lighting candles around the home in memory of loved ones. You could for example light a candle for each of those that you want to remember.
Yule (21 December)
Yule (21 December), otherwise known as middle winter, is recognised as a significant turning point in the yearly cycle. It symbolises the rebirth of the sun God and welcomes back the return of the fertile seasons. Gift giving is a common element of the Yule festivities. This is the same tradition Christians have for Christmas time, and it was actually borrowed from the Yule festival, so Christmas has some origins in pagan beliefs.
This is the longest night of the year where darkness has reached its peak. Two plants that you can collect from the local woods, parks, or even just in your neighbourhood if you look carefully are mistletoe and holly. If you can’t find them locally in your area, they can easily be purchased from your local nursey / flower shop or online. Mistletoe has a tradition associated with it, in that you kiss your true love under the branches of a mistletoe to express your love and dedication to each other. Mistletoe also represents fertility. Holly is believed to repel unwanted spirits, so hanging up a little bit of mistletoe and holly around your home or garden will help to drive away negative energies and encourages positivity, good vibes and new beginnings. A fun activity for this time of the year is to create a wreath, which can be made from many various materials such as twigs provided they are quite pliable (if not, you could soak the twigs in hot water overnight to soften them), leaves, mistletoe, holly, ivy or pine branches. Anything will do really and it can be fun to go out and collect materials to create the wreath’s with. If you’re lazy, you can purchase a wreath from Amazon, if you do, I recommend looking for a natural wreath rather than a plastic one to benefit from the life energy of the natural plants. Of course, as with Christian tradition, which borrows much from pagan tradition, Yule is a time to give gifts to family and friends. Just the same as with Christian tradition, gifts are wrapped and given to others. A Yule tree, same as a Christmas tree, can be set up and accessorised with lights, bulbs, pinecones and all kinds of the usual Christmas decoration odds and ends. Lights especially are important for Yule so it’s also a good time to put up light decorations around the house and garden, and also to wrap your tree in lights. Lighting of candles is also a popular activity this time of the year, to celebrate the end of a long winter and the changing of the season, and the coming of the springtime and lighter days. Popular colours for Yule are red, green and gold.