Celtic Festival

The Celtic wheel of the year

For information on the Celtic Festivals that make up the Wheel of the Year, scroll down the page.

Summer solstice – Summer quarter point, Monday 21st June

This is the time of the longest day and the shortest night – midsummer, when the sun’s power is at its height. The Celts used to stay up all night to watch the dawn and celebrate this longest day before the days begin to shorten once again and we head back towards the dark side of the year. To the Celts, this was the point at which the full outward manifestation of the sun’s power became one with the burgeoning grain and the return to inner darkness – a joining of the active and receptive principles, male and female.

The wheel was an important symbol of this festival, but an active, turning wheel. Cartwheels wrapped in straw, called fate wheels, were set alight and rolled down the hillsides. How long and how well they burned was believed to indicate the abundance of the coming harvest. Giant effigies of the Corn Mother, the Green Man and the Dragon were made of willow, carried through the town and burnt on the midsummer fires – a symbolic act of ensuring their continuation by giving them fire. Circular processions were held at night by torchlight on midsummer’s eve and during the day, all representing the turning of the wheel of the year, fate and the never-ending cycle of death and rebirth. This custom survives today in our carnival processions, where the floats have their origins in the ships that used to be wheeled through the towns to represent the burial mounds and long barrows – indicating a return to the dark inner world that begins on the longest day.

This was a very important festival in the old calendar, and many of the ancient stone circles and monuments are aligned with the summer solstice sunrise.

Summer Solstice energy

This is a time of completeness and abundance, for nature as well as for you, a time to celebrate all that you have achieved and manifested. The summer solstice invites you to celebrate your individuality and who you are, and to use your positive intent to look forward to all that you still want to become. As the sun’s energy comes to its peak, the active principle ripens all our outer achievements on the inner level too, bringing a transformation of spiritual strength and awareness. In this wholeness, you can recognise and celebrate the death and rebirth of the great cycle of the year.

How to celebrate

This is definitely a time for celebrating and entertaining in style with the whole community if possible. Drama, dance and song are all essential elements to raise the energy, and give everyone a chance to display their own unique talents. Light a huge bonfire and have lots of fireworks – Catherine wheels are especially symbolic. If you can find a fire-eater, even better! Throw aromatic herbs onto the fire (traditionally fennel, lavender, geranium, rue, rosemary and chamomile) and dance through the smoke. The tug of war is traditionally played at this time – all the summer-born people on one side and the winter-borns on the other, to symbolise the battle between summer and winter. Close the evening’s activities with a ceremony of thanks, to the sun, moon, five elements, nature, spirit, ancestors and, of course, each other. Then you can bless the food and drink and tuck in!

With thanks to Glennie Kindred for her excellent source book Sacred Celebrations.

Celtic wheel of the year

In this modern age of city living and science-ruled society, many of us have lost touch with the ebb and flow of the seasons and our place in the natural world. The Celtic festivals remind us of our closeness to nature and help us celebrate our connection with all living things, inspired by the turning of the seasons reflected on the changing face of the land. Some of these Celtic festivals are still honoured today – although often without recognising their true origins.

There are eight Celtic festivals marking our cycle through the wheel of the year (the most current one is described at the top of this page):

Samhain – Autumn cross quarter festival, end of October/beginning of November

Winter solstice – Winter quarter point, 20 to 23 December

Imbolc – Winter cross quarter festival, 1st/2nd February

Spring equinox – Spring quarter point, 21 – 22 March

Beltane – Spring cross quarter festival, end of April/beginning of May

Summer solstice – Summer quarter point, 20 to 23 June

Lammas (Lughnasadh) – Summer cross quarter festival, end July/beginning August

Autumn equinox – Autumn quarter point, 20 – 23 September

Samhain – Autumn cross quarter festival, end of October/beginning of November

The winter solstice marks the shortest day and the longest night, when the Celts acknowledged the great turning wheel of the year and of time itself (yule actually means wheel in Norwegian). The winter solstice was a time to pause and look back at the dark period since Samhain when the earth and its people had turned inward to gather energy and nurture dreams, and to look forward to the approaching return of the sun and a new season of activity.

The Celts did not view time in a linear way. The solstice was another station on the wheel of life – a part of the endless cycle of birth, death and then re-birth of something new. They decorated their homes with evergreens which represented this cycle of everlasting life – Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe which still have their place in Christmas celebrations today. Yule logs, candles, decorated trees and presents all have their roots in this ancient honouring of the sun’s return, bringing with it a new season of light, warmth and activity. The church deliberately chose this time of year to celebrate the arrival of its own Son!

In many cultures there are myths of sun gods and, further back, goddesses, who are born at this time, sacrificed or taken into the underworld with the end of the summer, and reborn to begin the cycle again at the winter solstice. This is the sun’s birthday!