Equinox and Mabon (Imbolc): Welcome, autumn!

autumn, mabon equinox

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21 and THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: Take a deep breath of crisp, autumn air and savor the warm spices of the season, as (respectively) Pagans celebrate Mabon and people around the Northern Hemisphere mark the autumnal equinox. For Pagans and Wiccans, Mabon is a type of Thanksgiving, recognizing the gifts of harvest; it is a time to seek blessings for the approaching winter months. Equinox, a celestial event, occurs twice per year and is so named because the length of day and night are (almost exactly) equal.

Did you know? The equinox phenomenon can occur on any planet with a significant tilt to its rotational axis, such as Saturn.

MABON: FROM CIDERS AND BREADS TO PINE CONES AND GOURDS

pumpkin spice latte autumn

Try a DIY, healthy version of a pumpkin spice latte! Feel Good Foodie has the recipe, at left. Photo by Maryam Samadi, courtesy of Pexels

“Everything autumn” sums up the fare, symbols and activities of Mabon, as Pagans and Wiccans offer cider, wines and warming herbs and spices to gods and goddesses. Druids call this time Mea’n Fo’mhair, while Wiccans celebrate the Second Harvest Festival, decorating altars with pine cones, gourds, corn, apples and other autumn elements.

As a time and season of mysteries, Wiccans recognize the aging of the goddess and visit ancestors’ graves, decorating them with leaves, acorns and other elements of fall. Tables are covered in feasts of breads, root vegetables and apple cider, as scents of cinnamon and nutmeg fill the air. Families gather, and preparations are made for the coming winter months.

Make it yourself! Whip up a homemade, healthy version of a pumpkin spice latte, with a recipe courtesy of Feel Good Foodie.

Looking for an autumn activity? Take a walk through the woods, while enjoying the bold colors of autumn; alternatively, make a horn of plenty that will grace the home through the season. Kids can create corn husk dolls (courtesy of Martha Stewart), and homes can smell like fall with the addition of scented pine cones (get a DIY here, from HGTV).

Autumn-ready home: For tips on fall decorating as well as helpful tips for the season, check out articles from HGTV. For style tips and ideas from the UK, check out this article from Country Living.

Yule: Welcome winter on solstice with cakes, mistletoe and a log on the fire

winter scene

Photo by Sorbyphoto, courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 21: For centuries, the solstices have been marked as auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, today is the winter solstice!

Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts, giving thanks for the “rebirth of the sun” and the reversal from increasing darkness to increasing light. Ancient Germanic peoples observed Yule; ancient Romans held Saturnalia, Brumalia and other festivals for the sun with food, gift-giving, gambling and often ludicrous behavior. Today, Pagans and Wiccans gather for Yule festivities: feasting and the lighting of the celebrated Yule log, which traditionally smolders for 12 days.

Tray Yule

A tray for Yule. Photo by Synne Rustad, courtesy of Flickr

Want recipes? Bake a tasty version of a Yule log with a recipe from Martha Stewart.

Looking for an easy, no-bake Yule log cake? Check out this recipe, courtesy of Food Network.

Germanic peoples are credited the religious festival called “Yule.” Enormous feasts and livestock sacrifices were associated with Yule, and so merry was the atmosphere in these activities that Grettis Saga refers to Yule as the time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.” Today’s Pagans and Wiccans often exchange gifts at Yule meals, while praising the rebirth of the sun and various gods.

YULE: WASSAIL, HOLLY & MISTLETOE

Looking for some Yule inspiration? Recharge with some all-natural ideas from the Huffington Post, such as enjoying the beauty of firelight or relaxing to some Classical music. In years past, pagans “wassailed” their fields with cider drinks—but a tasty wassail is great for sipping! (Find a recipe here. For an alcoholic version, check out the New York Times.)

Get in touch with nature by decorating your home with holly, mistletoe and evergreens; for a warm scent, make a pomander by decorating oranges with cloves (get instructions from Martha Stewart), noting the orange’s resemblance to the sun.

Solstice and Midsummer: Welcome summer with outdoor celebrations

Girls Sweden Midsummer

A celebration of Midsummer. Photo courtesy of The Lodown

SUNDAY, JUNE 20 and THURSDAY, JUNE 24: Picnics on the beach, wreaths of wildflowers, bonfires and Midsummer parties—Scandinavian-style—abound: Across the Northern Hemisphere, June 20 brings the summer solstice; on June 24, countries across the globe celebrate Midsummer.

For people around the world, Midsummer has been equated with greenery, fertility rituals and medicinal herbs for millennia. In Scandinavian countries, the longest day is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. A Scandinavian Midsummer is complete with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old: extravagant smorgasbord lunches, outdoor games for the entire community, dancing and more.

Flower crowns: This ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. For a tutorial on how to create a chic one, check out Lauren Conrad.com.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries often take center stage in cakes, shortcakes or eaten straight out of the bowl. Other traditional foods include the season’s first potatoes, made with dill and butter; a roast; herring or other types of fish and seafood; hard-boiled eggs and summer cabbage. For recipes, visit Bon Appetit.

MIDSUMMER AROUND THE WORLD

In Finland, the summer holiday unofficially starts with Midsummer, and so many flock to countryside cottages that city streets can seem eerily empty. Saunas, bonfires, barbecues and fishing are enjoyed by hundreds.

Did you know? June 24 is also the Christian Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

Two northeastern towns in Brazil have been in lengthy competition for the title of “Biggest Saint John Festival in the World,” and throughout the South American country, dishes made with corn and sweet potatoes are favored.

In Austria, a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River, while fireworks light up the night sky above castle ruins. In Latvia, homes, livestock and even cars are decorated with leaves, tree branches, flowers and other greenery.

The largest American celebrations of Midsummer take place in New York City, Seattle, Tucson and San Francisco. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, members of the large Finnish population celebrate Juhannus with beachfront bonfires and other outdoor activities.

LITHA: A WICCAN AND PAGAN SOLSTICE EVENT

Many Wiccans and Pagans observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life. At Litha, adherents note the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. Traditionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are the main course at shared meals, and bonfires are lit to pay homage to the full strength of the sun. In centuries past, torchlight processions were common; at Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle.

Nowruz, Naw-Ruz, Ugadi and Ostara: Welcome spring

spring image, Nowruz

Photo by seznandy, courtesy of Pixabay

SATURDAY, MARCH 20 and SUNDAY, MARCH 21: All across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children welcome the season of spring, marked by the vernal equinox. This ancient cycle fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz; for Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For many Hindus, it’s Ugadi.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals may differ, the theme is joy in the promise of new life that comes in the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans discussing the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

NORTHERN SPRING AND THE VERNAL EQUINOX

On March 20 at 5:37 a.m. EDT, the 2021 vernal equinox will occur—and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of the Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

In Chinese belief, spring is associated with a green dragon and the direction east: the green dragon for the green sprouts of spring, and east as the direction of sunrise and the beginning of each day.

Haft-sin table, Nowruz

A Haft-sin table. Photo by Hamed Saber, courtesy of Flickr

NOWRUZ: THE HAFT-SIN TABLE

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness. Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year festival, families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

NAW-RUZ: BAHA’I NEW YEAR

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and on Naw-Ruz, that fast is broken—a celebration of the Baha’i New Year. Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy. No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, but most Baha’is gather for a meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz.

UGADI: RELIGIOUS FORECAST; SIX TASTES

For Hindus and the people of the Deccan region of India, this time of year bring (Y)ugadi, derived from Sanskrit as “the beginning of a new age.” Names for the festival vary by region, but across India, Ugadi specifically refers to the start of our current age, Kali Yuga. According to Hindu legend, Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, at the moment Lord Krishna left the world. On Yugadi, people traditionally gather to listen to the recitation of the religious almanac of the new year—or, in other words, a forecast of the coming year. Hindus used to gather in temples to hear the Ugadi forecast, but today, priest-scholar recitations can be viewed on television or the almanac might be read by an elder in other settings.

On this auspicious day, extended families gather and ritual baths are taken before prayers. Carefully cleaned homes welcome visitors with an entrance draped in fresh mango leaves. In many regions, a dish of six tastes is partaken with a symbolism that represents the varied experiences of life. Most commonly, neem buds and flowers symbolize sadness; jaggery and banana signify happiness; green chili peppers represent anger; salt indicates fear; taramind juice symbolizes disgust; and unripened mango translates to surprise.

OSTARA: PAGANS AND WICCANS CELEBRATE

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

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Candlemas, Groundhog Day, Imbolc: From Phil to snowdrops, mark a trio of holidays

Groundhog Day in a field groundhog

Photo courtesy of Pixy.org

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1 and TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Today’s Groundhog Day may have evolved from the ancient festival of Imbolc, but woodland creatures and coming-of-spring myths, these days, have little to do with the observance of the Christian feast that falls one day later: It’s the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, known better as Candlemas.

Looking for Phil? The nationally-known predictions and events spurred by Punxsutawney Phil, the “official” groundhog of Groundhog Day, will be going virtual this year. (Most years, tens of thousands of visitors flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day, where “Phil” is regarded as the “one and only” weather predictor for the day.) For streaming information and more, click here.

snowdrops Candlemas Imoblc

Snowdrop flowers. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

No matter which holiday you’re celebrating, do so with the unifying themes for these first two days of February: renewal and hope. The first days of February bring new beginnings, and the Gaelic festival of Imbolc marks the start of spring.

CANDLEMAS: CANDLES, COINS AND SNOWDROPS

The feast of Candlemas focuses on the Gospel of Luke, which describes Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. According to the gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met a man named Simeon while at the Temple, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and as the fulfillment of a prophesy. A woman at the temple, Anna, offered similar praise for Jesus. However, Simeon warned that Mary’s heart would someday be “pierced with a sword,” as the future would hold tragic events for her young son.

 

The Feast of the Presentation ranks as one of the oldest feasts in the church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. Aside from the blessing of candles—and the widespread and abundant use of candles, too—Candlemas brings an array of delicious foods and vibrant customs!

In countries across Europe, sweet and savory crepes are made; in Mexico, piles of tamales are served, often at a party thrown by the person who found the baby Jesus trinket in an Epiphany King Cake. French tradition has it that successfully flipping a coin while making pancakes will surely bring good luck, and Candlemas Bells—early-blooming white flowers, also known as snowdrops—are believed to purify any home they are brought into today.

GROUNDHOG DAY: SEASONAL PREDICTIONS AND GOOD OL’ PHIL

On February 2, many of us ask: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

What started as an ancient pagan festival’s legends on woodland animals “testing the weather” has slowly morphed into a national phenomenon in the United States. Groundhog Day, spurred by German immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries who brought groundhog traditions with them to America, gave birth to “Punxsutawney Phil” and the array of groundhog-related events that (typically) fill lodges and streets in Pennsylvania in the first days of February each year.

IMBOLC: SPRING AND WOODLAND ANIMALS

Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere usher in February with the centuries-old Gaelic festival of Imbolc, marking the beginning of spring and the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is celebrated.) Corn dollies are made by young Pagans, while adults twist Brighid crosses. After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

Did you know? The Irish Imbolc translates from the Old Irish imbolg, or “in the belly”—a tribute to the early spring pregnancies of ewes. As lactation begins, an array of dairy foods eaten on this day symbolizes new beginnings.

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Yule, solstice: Welcome winter with a log on the fire, cakes, nature and mistletoe

Drawing pinecones

Yule traditionally celebrates nature, the season of winter and the process of the solstice. Photo by PxHere

MONDAY, DECEMBER 21: Since ancient times, the solstices have been marked as auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, this is the winter solstice!

Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts, celebrating the reversal from increasing darkness to increasing light and giving thanks for the “rebirth of the sun.” Ancient Germanic peoples observed Yule; ancient Romans held Saturnalia, Brumalia and other festivals for the sun with food, gift-giving, gambling and often ludicrous behavior. Today, Pagans and Wiccans gather for Yule festivities: feasting and the lighting of the celebrated Yule log, which traditionally smolders for 12 days.

Wassail for Yule

A pot of wassail. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Want recipes? Bake a tasty version of a Yule log with recipes from Taste of Home and Martha Stewart.

Germanic peoples are credited the religious festival called “Yule.” Enormous feasts were associated with Yule, and so merry was the atmosphere in these activities that Grettis Saga refers to Yule as the time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.” Today’s Pagans and Wiccans often exchange gifts at Yule meals, while praising the rebirth of the sun and various gods.

WASSAIL, HOLLY & MISTLETOE

Looking for some Yule inspiration? Recharge with some all-natural ideas from the Huffington Post, such as enjoying the beauty of firelight or relaxing to some Classical music. In years past, pagans “wassailed” their fields with cider drinks—but a tasty wassail is great for sipping! (Find a recipe here. For an alcoholic version, check out the New York Times.)

Get in touch with nature by decorating your home with holly, mistletoe and evergreens; for a warm scent, make a pomander by decorating oranges with cloves (get instructions from Martha Stewart), noting the orange’s resemblance to the sun.

Allhallowtide, Samhain, Dia de los Muertos & Halloween: A spook-tacular weekend

Three lit jack-o-lanterns with faces

Photo by William Warby, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31 and SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2—From Samhain to Mexico’s Day of the Dead to Halloween, world cultures celebrate the belief that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin—and ancestors are held close. Don’t worry, it’s not all solemn and bone-chilling, though—today’s secular Halloween also brings out bright Jack-o-lanterns, loads of candy and a pretty good excuse for adults to join in on the fun with kids. So grab your best ghoulish mask and get the (Halloween) party started!

THE COVID-19 HALLOWEEN FORECAST

Like most publicly celebrated holidays in 2020, the pandemic has dramatically changed the way Halloween will be celebrated this year. Here are a few headlines:

BUSINESSES ARE SHIVERING THIS YEAR! On October 1, MarketWatch carried one of many business reports predicting a downturn on the commercial side of the holiday under a headline: Halloween sales forecast could be frightful Tony Garcia reported, in part: “More than half, 52%, of consumers say they will buy less candy this year. And 73% expect to celebrate Halloween differently.”

BUT, WHO KNOWS? 148 MILLION STILL WILL CELEBRATE. On October 14, Kimberly Amadeo reported in The Balance that the magnitude of 2020 celebrations is changing dramatically—so retail sales may not tell the whole story. Millions still are planning to celebrate and some may wind up with even more elaborate plans, as a result.

A SWEET REPORT FROM CONFECTIONERS. Of course, the National Confectioners Association has a vested interest in a sweet forecast and, in September, did report via PR Newswire that chocolate and candy sales appeared to be rising.

DAWN OF ‘THE CANDY CHUTE’ Americans are known for their innovations! Reports nationwide are describing various models of “candy chutes” so homeowners can still deliver candy to kids from a safe distance either up on a porch—or even from an upstairs window! We’ve heard of these chutes made from common pieces of rain gutters—like the one that members of Clarkston United Methodist Church in Michigan built so they could continue to offer free holiday treats to their town’s children this year. Here’s a Detroit News story about a chute made from PVC pipe. Here’s an NPR story that mentions chutes made from cardboard tubes.

Maybe Halloween 2020 will be remembered for years as the dawn of the “candy chute”!

HAVE YOU SEEN A CANDY CHUTE?

HALLOWEEN: A CHRISTIAN ORIGIN; A CULTURAL PHENOMENON

Allhallowtide, the triduum of Halloween, recalls deceased spirits, saints (hallows) and martyrs alike, in one collective commemoration. The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and many Christians visit graveyards during this time to pray and place flowers and candles at the graves of their deceased loved ones. The two days following All Hallows Eve—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day—pay homage to the souls that Christians believe are now with God. In medieval England, Christians went “souling” on Halloween, begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers in local churches.

Halloween’s secular side has emerged during the past century, and today, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses, watching horror movies and dressing up like favored characters has become custom in Western culture. Recent estimates are that the very diverse American business of “haunted attractions” brings in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and the commercial elements of Halloween have spread from North America to Europe, South America, Australia, Japan and parts of East Asia.

SAMHAIN: GUISING FOR A TRICK

pumpkin candles darkness

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

The original Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and ushered in winter, or the “darker half” of the year, in Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. During this time of year, bonfires were lit for the purpose of divination and as a protective and cleansing measure. Legend has it that spirits could easily come to earth, and many people would leave out food and drink for the roaming entities.

In many households, ancestors were welcomed to the table with particular enthusiasm, and large meals were prepared. Multiple sites in Ireland were, and still are, associated with Samhain, and the spirits that emerge there at this time of year. Guising—donning a costume—was thought to “trick” ill-intentioned spirits roaming the streets near Samhain, and hallowed-out turnips were lit with a candle and placed in windows, their monstrous carved faces frightening bad spirits.

Today’s Samhain emerged as part of the late 19th century Celtic Revival, and Neopagans, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans and Wiccans all celebrate the holiday, in slightly varying ways. Most keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors, welcoming the “darker” season and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.

MUERTOS: DAY OF THE DEAD

Vibrant decorations for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, mark towns in Mexico and Latin American communities far and wide, as the lives of the departed are celebrated with vigor. The full festival of Dia de los Muertos typically lasts two or three days (in some regions, customs begin on October 31), and traditionally, November 1 pays tribute to the souls of children and the innocent while November 2 is dedicated to deceased adult souls. In Mexico, relatives adorn altars and graves with elaborate garlands and wreaths, crosses made of flowers and special foods. Families gather in cemeteries, where pastors bestow prayers upon the dead. For children, Dia de los Muertos celebrations mean candy like sugar skulls and once-a-year treats; music and dancing delight celebrants of all ages.

ALL THINGS HALLOWEEN:
DIY COSTUMES, DÉCOR, PARTIES & MORE

What’s Halloween without some good costumes and tasty treats?