Pagan Holidays: The Truth About What’s Brewing In Your Spiritual Calendar

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Pagan holidays bring color and meaning to our annual calendars with ancient traditions. While Christmas and Easter are well-known, they also have roots in pagan customs. By exploring their origins, it adds depth to our understanding of these holidays.

From the excitement of Halloween to the coziness of the Winter Solstice, each celebration connects us to Nature’s cycles and rhythms. Exploring these Pagan holidays uncovers layers of history, symbolism, and meaning.

Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and referencing sources throughout AND at the bottom of this article.

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Breaking Free from Pagan Holiday “Rules”

There is some debate around the names, dates, and which spiritual practitioner celebrates each holiday. However, there’s no wrong way to celebrate the seasons and cycles of Nature! It’s a very personal part of your spiritual practice.

I deeply want beginners to start by letting go of these “rules” placed on us by others. You don’t need to celebrate every holiday to be a “real” Pagan, Witch, Wiccan, or spiritual person. Focus on the meanings and symbolism behind each holiday and incorporate the holidays and practices that resonate with you.

In every Pagan Holiday section, I linked an article that will go more into depth if you’re interested in learning more about that specific holiday and how I celebrate!

What is a Pagan Holiday?

Pagan holidays consist of celebrating and honoring the seasons of Nature wherever we live. It can be as easy or complicated as you choose to make it, just like any other holiday.

I like to find ways to connect with Nature in my area and incorporate the spiritual intentions each pagan holiday represents. This can be a simple meal with a loved one, meditating alone with a candle, journaling, or simply walking outside.

If you only get one thing out of this article, I hope you understand each Pagan holiday is a time to slow down and be present. Every holiday marks the changing seasons, which also brings important changes to our lives.

Sit and feel what’s happening inside yourself. What more do you want from life? How do you feel? What are you most grateful for?

Look at what’s happening in Nature and let it inspire you! For example, I often feel as if my worth is attached to my level of productivity, so I feel guilty when I rest or binge the first season of White Lotus (Have you seen it? The music? I’m obsessed). Yet, Nature rests every Winter because it’s crucial for real growth.

…for if there is one point on which all religious historians agree, after many useless quarels, it is the obvious fact that Christianity was not invented on its own in the West and that it was not constructed out of whole cloth.

This imported religion was compelled to inscribe its doctrine and commemorations in the pagan calendar predating its arrival in order to better assimilate the preexisting beliefs…

…The sixteenth-century Reformation restored order to the Christian dogma and eliminated what is considered suspect, including the worship of the Virgin and the saints – precisely where the Christian mythology of the Middle Ages took shelter…

Walter, Philippe – Christian Mythology

What is the Wiccan Wheel of the Year?

Gerald Gardner and other members of his coven created the Wiccan religion during the early 1950s. They adopted the term Wheel of the Year from Jacob Grimm, the author of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, as part of Wicca’s belief system. They were attempting to modernize ancient Pagan traditions by blending elements from various cultures, including Celtic and Middle Eastern celebrations.

Gerald Gardner originally intended to focus solely on the four Celtic fire festivals (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain) within the Wheel of the Year. He wanted to exclude the solstices and equinoxes.

However, many members of Gardner’s coven, including High Priestess Doreen Valiente, practiced Druidism, and the solstices held important spiritual meaning. So, naturally, they wanted to include these spiritual beliefs in their Wiccan faith.

This left them with six holidays, which felt irregular, so they added the equinoxes to create a harmonious balance. This is why you’ll see the equinoxes with additional names (Ostara and Mabon), but I’ll go more in-depth for each holiday listed below.

You do not need to be Wiccan to celebrate the Wheel of the Year or Pagan holidays. There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate Nature and the seasons, so feel free to choose what resonates with you most!

The modern-day Wheel of the Year was first suggested by the scholar and mythologist Jacob Grimm (1785-1863 CE) in his 1835 CE work, Teutonic Mythology, and fixed in its present form in the 1950s and early ’60s CE by the Wicca movement.

World History – Wheel of the Year

Wiccan Holidays and Sabbats

Wiccans celebrate the Wheel of the Year, which consists of eight holidays called Sabbats which are roughly six weeks apart. The northern and southern hemispheres typically celebrate the Wheel of the Year during different months due to the seasonality of each holiday.

Four of these festivals (Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain) are rooted in Celtic history and origins. The day of celebration lands on the same date every year.

The other four, Ostara (Spring Equinox), Litha (Summer Solstice), Mabon (Autumn Equinox), and Yule (Winter Solstice), represent the sun’s location, so the celebration date can vary each year.

This can often confuse beginners because Pagan holidays also celebrate these seasonal cycles and festivals. Depending on your spiritual path, you may choose to celebrate some, all, or none of the holidays in the Wheel of the Year.

Wiccan Esbats (Moon Cycles)

Many spiritual paths celebrate and honor the cycles of the Moon. However, Wiccans refer to the moon cycles as Esbats.

Here’s a breakdown of each monthly moon, their 2024 schedules, and a few more important points of interest if you’d like to dig a bit deeper. I update these yearly in case there are supermoons, eclipses, etc.

Full Moon Schedule 2024

  • The Full Wolf Moon occurs on January 25th, 2024, reaching its peak at 12:54 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Snow Moon occurs on February 24th, 2024, reaching its peak at 7:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Worm Moon occurs on March 25th, 2024, reaching its peak at 3:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Pink Moon occurs on April 23rd, 2024, reaching its peak at 7:49 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Flower Moon occurs on May 23rd, 2024, reaching its peak at 9:53 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Strawberry Moon occurs on June 21st, 2024, and peaks at 9:08 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Buck Moon takes place on July 21st, 2024, and peaks at 6:17 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Sturgeon Moon occurs on August 19th, 2024, and peaks at 2:26 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Harvest Moon takes place on September 17th, 2024, reaching its peak at 10:34 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Hunter Moon takes place on October 17th, 2024, and peaks at 7:26 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Beaver Moon occurs on November 15th, 2024, and peaks at 4:28 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • The Cold Moon takes place on December 15th, 2024, and peaks at 4:02 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

What are Pagan Holidays?

Many Pagans and Witches are not Wiccan and do not celebrate The Wheel of the Year. However, they often celebrate the seasonal holidays Gerald Gardner pulled from Celtic and Middle Eastern holidays when creating the Wicca.

Depending on each practitioner’s spiritual beliefs, they may choose to only celebrate the Celtic fire festivals. Some may choose to only celebrate the solstices and equinoxes, and some may mix and match.

I typically focus on the spiritual intentions of the Pagan Holiday and modernize it to fit into my spiritual practices today (this is sometimes referred to as Pagan reconstructions).

When deciding on a path that fits you best, try slowing down and fully immersing yourself in the current season. Remember the wonder and excitement you felt for the seasons as a child if you feel stuck. Did you love swimming at the local lake, catching snowflakes on your tongue, or running barefoot across the grass? Nostalgic memories are a great place to begin deciding how to celebrate.

Saturnalia

Saturnalia was a lively Roman festival dedicated to Saturn, the god of agriculture. Originally, it centered around farmers giving gifts and offerings to ensure a prosperous harvest during the winter sowing season.

Initially observed for just one day, Saturnalia’s popularity led to its expansion. It eventually became a week-long celebration from December 17th to December 23rd.

The festivities kicked off with a grand sacrificial ceremony at Saturn’s temple, followed by days filled with feasting, drinking, entertainment, and gambling. Saturnalia was known for overturning social norms, such as the reversal of roles between slaves and their owners. During this time, slaves were encouraged to dine with their masters and even challenge their authority. In some cases, masters even served dinner to their slaves.

Remember, slaves did not write history, but rather the wealthy, who may have viewed this holiday differently. For example, just because owners served dinner to their slaves doesn’t mean they prepared the meal. 

Saturnalia by Antoine Callet
Saturnalia by Antoine Callet. Photo license with Wikimedia Commons. Photo credit: Themadchopper, Antoine-François Callet

Yule and Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice, also known as Yule or Yuletide, typically occurs around December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere (and June 21st for the Southern Hemisphere), though the exact date can vary depending on the sun’s position.

This Pagan holiday marks the arrival of the longest night, signaling the beginning of longer and warmer days ahead as the light returns. Symbols and decorations like the Yule Log often represent this time of transition.

Yule has ancient roots from various cultures. For example, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, and the Egyptians celebrated the return of Ra, the sun god. The Old Norse people observed Jól, a twelve-day feast known as Yule. It was common for many celebrations to last several days.

Learn more about the Yule Goat

Learn more about Krampus

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

Which came first, Christmas or celebrations during the dark Winter season? I think the answer to this one is pretty obvious. Christmas and many other Christian celebrations were built on top of pagan beliefs in an effort to convert them.

Many people want to know how the date December 25th came to represent the birth of Jesus. Long story short, it was believed Jesus was conceived on the Spring Equinox. You can understand why when you consider the symbolism during the spring season (fertility and rebirth).

The calendar used at the time placed the Spring Equinox on March 25th, so nine months later is December 25th. According to Mark Forsyth in A Christmas Cornucopia, the oldest written record of this can be found in the book Chronography (354 AD).

Just to recap: there’s nothing in the New Testament about what day Jesus was born. There was even an idea that his birth was so mysterious that it must be outside time.

The early Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays, they celebrated death days. There was even an idea that birthdays were pagan and that only pagan gods would have something so mundane as a birthday. The only birthday mentioned in the Bible is Pharaoh’s, and he celebrates by hanging a baker.

Mark Forsyth – A Christmas Cornucopia – The Hidden Stories behind our Yuletide Traditions
My 2019 Yule log for Yule and Winter Solstice
My 2019 Yule log for Yule and Winter Solstice

Imbolc

The Pagan holiday of Imbolc (pronounced im-olk with a silent B) begins at sundown on January 31st and lasts until sundown on February 1st. Remember, the ancient Gauls celebrated the start of a new day once the sun went down.

Imbolc is Old Irish meaning in the belly or milking, and refers to pregnant ewes (female sheep over one year of age) this time of year. Imbolc is a Celtic fire festival that honors the halfway point between Winter and Spring. It also celebrates the hearth, home, sheep giving milk again, and themes of renewal.

Imbolc’s Midwinter celebrations are centered around the coming of Spring and are associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid. There may still be snow on the ground or cold days ahead, but you’ll notice that the light lasts a little longer each day, and Nature is beginning to stir.

Imbolc
Hydrangea from my yard during the Pagan Holiday Imbolc

Lupercalia

There’s some debate regarding Lupercalia, with many scholars having various stances regarding its origin, traditions, and influence. Like many Pagan holidays, Lupercalia was a big feast with lots of drinking and sexual escapades.

Lupercalia was a Roman festival symbolizing purification, fertilityand removing evil spirits. It can be traced back to at least the 6th century BC, and its name derives from the word lupus, meaning wolf.

The ancient Pagan Lupercalia festival took place every year on February 15th in Rome. However, it’s important to note some scholars believe the Lupercalia festivals took place on February 13th and lasted through the 15th.

Lupercalia A Pagan Festival and Holiday

Is Valentine’s Day a Pagan Holiday?

Some people believe Lupercalia is the origin of Valentine’s Day, but it’s probably unlikely. Valentine’s Day likely originated in France and England during the Middle Ages, where it was believed February 14th marked the beginning of the mating season for birds. 

This popularized the idea the middle of February should be a day of love. In his 1375 poem Parliament of Foules, English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to mention St. Valentine’s Day as a day of love.

Spring Equinox

The Spring Equinox, also called the Vernal Equinox or Ostara, begins around the 21st of March in the Northern Hemisphere (September 20th or 21st in the Southern Hemisphere) but can vary based on the sun’s location. The Spring Equinox is a time of balance since night and day are equal during this time.

This Pagan holiday is associated with fresh beginnings, optimism, and hope! Our ambitions and aspirations appear to be within reach, and we set out to accomplish them enthusiastically!

Wiccans refer to this holiday as the Ostara sabbat (pronounced ah-star-ah) after the Germanic goddess of Spring. There is debate about whether or not her origins are from the goddess Eostre (pronounced ee-ah-stray or ee-ah-ster).

My Spring Equinox rituals and altar
My Spring Equinox rituals and altar

Is Easter a Pagan Holiday?

In 725 CE, a monk named Bede (pronounced bee-d) mentioned Eostre for the first time. According to Bede, Pagans celebrated and honored Eostre with feasts before Christians celebrated Easter.

Every year, the Paschal Moon (pronounced pa-skl) determines the date of the Christian celebration of Easter. The Easter holiday occurs on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. This full moon can appear in March or April, depending on the year.

Beltane

Beltane begins at sundown on April 30th until sundown on May 1st (October 31st – November 1st in the southern hemisphere) and marks the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.

It’s Celtic for bright fire, and it honors fertility, growth, and the abundance of life. Traditionally, Beltane rituals include dancing around the Maypole and bonfires to welcome the warmer days of spring and the promise of summer ahead.

This joyful celebration emphasizes community gatherings, sexuality, feasting, prosperity, and bringing people together to embrace Nature’s vitality. Many also use Beltane to express gratitude for the Earth’s beauty and connect with the natural world through outdoor activities and rituals.

Lilacs from my garden during the Pagan Holiday Beltane
Lilacs from my garden during the Pagan Holiday Beltane

Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. It may also be called Midsummer, Alban Heflin, or Litha. It typically lands around June 21st (December 21st in the Southern Hemisphere) but can vary based on the sun’s location.

We know many structures and spiritual locations align with the Summer Solstice, and ancient pagans would travel to sacred wells and waters to worship. The Summer Solstice is the end of the planting season; the following three Pagan holidays focus on harvesting and reaping the benefits of your hard work.

Summer is a time linked with love, creativity, growth, joy, and feeling empowered. The Summer Solstice is when the sun reaches its highest point. However, now the balance shifts. The days get shorter and the nights longer. Darkness is slowly gaining strength.

Furthermore, the Celtic and Germanic calendars were most likely superimposed on two ancient apportionments of the year: two large seasons – summer, which runs from May 1 to November 1, and winter, which runs from November 1 to May 1.

Phillippe Walter notes that these apportionments “have undergone a more or less marked Christianization by virtue of being fixed to specific periods in the calendar”

– in other words, originally movable feasts became fixed when “integrated into the Christian calendar.” Certainly this recuperation explains the plethora of dates, often quite close to each other.

Claude Lecouteux – Phantom Armies of the Night
Photo of me enjoying the Summer Solstice next to my backyard lavender
Photo of me enjoying the Summer Solstice next to my backyard lavender

Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh (pronounced LOO-nah-sah) is a Pagan holiday celebrating the arrival of the late summer season and enjoying the abundance around us right now. It typically starts at sundown on July 31st and continues until sundown on August 1st (January 31st through February 1st in the southern hemisphere).

Lughnasadh celebrates the halfway point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It represents the beginning of the harvest season, which is why you’ll see many grain and corn correspondences. This Pagan holiday’s name comes from the Celtic god Lugh. Lughnasadh literally means Lugh’s Gathering.

Lughnasadh’s spiritual intentions are gratitude, renewal, giving, and reaping what you’ve sown.

Sunflower showing Sacred Geometry in my garden during Lughnasadh
Sunflower showing Sacred Geometry in my garden during Lughnasadh

Autumn Equinox

The Autumn Equinox is a special time when night and day are equal. Welcome the transition from summer to autumn by celebrating the season and honoring the crops. It typically occurs around September 21st (March 21st in the Southern Hemisphere) but can vary based on the sun’s location.

Some of the spiritual intentions of the Autumn Equinox are home protection, transitions, gratitude, shadow work, and preparation for Winter.

The name Mabon was added to this day of celebration by Wiccan author Aidan Kelly in the 1970s. He researched many Greek, Hebrew, and Germanic myths, looking for possible names they may have used to celebrate the Autumn Equinox. He eventually decided on the Welsh story of Mabon.

so I picked “Mabon” as the name for the holiday in my calender. It was not an arbitrary choice.

Aidan Kelly – About Naming Ostara, Litha, and Mabon
My Autumn Equinox Pagan Holiday ritual honoring Persephone with pomegranates wheat wine and dried autumn hydrangeas
My Autumn Equinox ritual honoring Persephone with pomegranates, wheat, wine, and dried autumn hydrangeas

Is Thanksgiving a Pagan Holiday?

Many harvest and feast celebrations take place during the Autumn season! Many Pagans (not all) celebrate the Autumn Equinox, Druids celebrate Alban Elfed, Norse Pagans (Heathens) celebrate Winter Finding, Celtic Pagans celebrate the Feast of Avalon, Hellenic Pagans celebrate Boedromion, and Wiccans celebrate Mabon.

Since the Autumn Equinox represents the second harvest, it’s sometimes referred to as the Witches’ Thanksgiving.

Due to the obvious problematic history behind Thanksgiving, many modern Pagans choose to celebrate a day of gratitude and abundance with a feast on the Autumn Equinox instead. Obviously, you can feel free to celebrate however you like.

Samhain

Samhain (pronounced SOW-in or sometimes Sah-Win) is a cross-quarter fire celebration marking the halfway point between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. Some believe it means “summer’s end,” while others debate whether it means “fire of peace.”

Since ancient Celtic people recognized sunset as the start of the day, it’s typically celebrated at sundown on October 31st until sundown on November 1st. (May 1st in the Southern Hemisphere).

However, some spiritual practitioners are passionate about celebrating the exact halfway point between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, which will vary yearly. Other practitioners choose to celebrate on the full Moon closest to Samhain.

This pagan holiday represents the ending of one year and the beginning of another, which is why it’s often called the Witches’ New Year in modern times. We say goodbye to the past year and honor our lost loved ones.

Is Halloween a Pagan Holiday?

Yes! So many Halloween traditions originate from the Pagan holiday of Samhain! Samhain became associated with death due to the slaughter of animals and because Samhain marked the end of the year and season.

Every year at Samhain, witches, Pagans, and spiritual practitioners commune with ancestor spirits, celebrate the harvest, honor deities, decorate altars, and practice divination.

The Gauls marked the year into just two havles, the dark or winter half being Sam or Samonios, the light half Gam or its Latinized form, Gamonios.

….Samonios, the dark half of the year, was reckoned first in the Celtic calendar. The festival marking the beginning of Samonios was Samhuinn (Samhain), a three-day feast celebrated on the new moon closest to the autumnal equinox.

The Book of Celtic Myths
My Samhain Pumpkin Sacrifice Ritual
My Samhain Pumpkin Sacrifice Ritual

Pagan Holidays and Wheel of the Year Dates 2024

(Northern Hemisphere)

Imbolc

January 31st – February 1st (beginning at sundown and continuing until sundown the next day)


Spring Equinox (Ostara)

March 19th


Beltane

April 30th – May 1st (beginning at sundown and continuing until sundown the next day)


Summer Solstice (Litha)

June 20th


Lughnasadh (Lammas)

July 31st – August 1st (beginning at sundown and continuing until sundown the next day)


Autumn Equinox (Mabon)

September 22nd


Samhain

October 31st – November 1st (beginning at sundown and continuing until sundown the next day)


Winter Solstice (Yule)

December 21st


Pagan Holidays and Wheel of the Year Dates 2025

(Northern Hemisphere)

Imbolc

January 31st – February 1st (beginning at sundown and continuing until sundown the next day)


Spring Equinox (Ostara)

March 20th


Beltane

April 30th – May 1st (beginning at sundown and continuing until sundown the next day)


Summer Solstice (Litha)

June 20th


Lughnasadh (Lammas)

July 31st – August 1st (beginning at sundown and continuing until sundown the next day)


Autumn Equinox (Mabon)

September 22nd


Samhain

October 31st – November 1st (beginning at sundown and continuing until sundown the next day)


Winter Solstice (Yule)

December 21st


I hope this post on the Pagan Holidays was helpful!! Lots of love to you, and remember, as always…

Sources

Forsyth, Mark. A Christmas Cornucopia: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Yuletide Traditions. Penguin. 3 November 2016.

Hillerbrand, Hans J. “Christmas”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 25 Oct. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Christmas.

Lecouteux, Claude. Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Undead. Inner Traditions. 16 August 2011.

Mark, Joshua. Wheel of the Year. World History Encyclopedia. 28 Jan 2019. https://www.worldhistory.org/Wheel_of_the_Year/

Walter, Philippe. Christian Mythology: Revelations of Pagan Origins. Inner Traditions. 20 November 2014.

“The Book of Celtic Myths.” Adams Media, a division of F + W Media, Inc. 2017

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