One of the fire festivals, Samhain (pronounced swo-en) signaled the end of summer and the beginning of the Celtic new year. People prepared to go from the warmth and light of summer into the cold and darkness of winter.
It was also believed that on Samhain night, the veil between this world and the next parted, allowing the dead to once more walk among them. It was celebrated October 31 and November 1 coinciding with today's celebrations of Halloween and All Saints Day.
Also know as Mid-Winter celebration or Yuletide was held on December 21, the shortest day of the year. During the celebration the Yule log would bit lit to bring light to the darkness, frighten off evil spirits and bring luck in the coming year. The winter fruit of the mistletoe would also be cut as a sign of life during the bleakness of the winter. Today, the Christmas holidays include many of the old traditions such as the Yule log and hanging mistletoe.
The second Celtic festival was Imbolc held on February 1. It's centered around the fertility goddess Bride (Brigid) and the birthing of lambs and the fertility of animals. The second fire festival, Imbolc was centered around the household fire and gives a nod to the woman's absolute authoity in her home. It signaled the awakening of mother earth. Later it became St. Brigid's Day.
Ostara - Vernal or Spring Equinox
Celebration held on March 21, when the night and day were of equal length. A solar festival, it maked the renewal of life and the coming of spring. With the arrival of Christianity, Easter incorporated many of the traditions surrounding the Vernal Equinox.
The third fire festival, Beltane was the beginning of Summer for the ancient Celt. Held on May 1st, it was a time when the tuath would look forward to the coming summer and the hope of fruitful year ahead, not only for their crops but for their families as well. While bonfires were lit to encourage the sun to warm the earth, cattle would pass between them for purity and fertiliy, and young men and women would take to the fields and woods, gathering flowers and making matches for themselves in the coming months.
Also known as Midsummer's Day, the Summer Solstice was celebrated on June 20 or 21 and represented the middle of the growing season. But more than that it was the longest day of the year and the first day of summer. Dedicated to the goddess Etain, the Celts believed it was a time when the Oak King, who rulled the summer, would win out over the Holly King of the the winter. The warmth and brightness of the sun drove away evil spirits and lit the path for abundance and prosperity in the year ahead.
Also known as the Festival of Light, Lughnasadh was dedicated to Lugh, the god of light. This was a happy time of the year, when crops were about to be harvested and the weather bright and warm. On August 1, fairs would be held, while
games and races were held were to celebrate.
Like it's Spring counterpart, it marks the date when day and night are once again of equal length, this time on September 21. It is in ways a second harvest celebration, for it is a time of thanksgiving for the gathered harvest and an nod to the harshness of winter that lies ahead.