The FNRM The wheel of the year

The Wheel of the Year - The natural cycle of festivals

The year is divided into four main periods that indicate the change in the seasons. These are winter and summer solstice and spring and fall equinoxes. The solstices and equinoxes are tied to astronomical moments and are happening approximately every three months.

Holidays that are dedicated to these phenomena, also knowns as Sabbats, do not have a specific date as the astronomical moment shifts a bit from year-to-year. In this nature-based calendar including the four solar festivals, there are other four seasonal festival in between.

The wheel of the year consists eight festivals that pagans have more or less followed for centuries. Depending where you live, your local pagan celebrations vary from others. The modern-day Wheel of the Year is a fairly new concept (first suggested in 1835 by mythologist Jacob Grimm), but what it represents is far older. Based on the literature and art of ancient civilizations, the repeating cycle of the seasons has been apparent. The Sabbats may have had many different names but the idea behind the festivals have been similar.

When Christianity overtook the Europe, these natural festivals became Christianized. For Example, the winter solstice (Yule) became Christmas and spring equinox (Ostara) became Easter.

Below, you can learn more about each festival and how they were celebrated in Finland. These festivals occur every six weeks so there is always a reason to celebrate.

 1. The Winter solstice (or Yule) (December 19. - 23.)

Each year, Yule falls near Christmas. It is celebrated on the shortest day of the year, which means that the days are getting longer again, and the sun is returning. Traditionally, it is a time to give gifts, feast well, decorate trees and to bring evergreens like mistletoes, ivy or pine inside the house. Nuutti’s day ended the Yule peace and after around twenty days, originally young men dressed up and travelled from house to house asking for beer and food. If the men did not get what they asked, they could do pranks.

2. Imbolc or Brigid’s day (February 1. - 2.)

Imbolc is the celebration of spring, taking place in the early February. It is celebrated between the winter solstice and spring equinox. It is a festival of increasing daylight and hoping for a generous spring. In Finland the original spring celebration in February was Laskiainen (often called ‘mid-winter sliding festival’), when people sliding down the hills were shouting wishes for a good harvest for the coming year. Also, Talvennapa was a day from which the new harvest season was starting again.

3. Spring equinox (or Ostara) (March 19. - 23.)

During the equinox, the day and night are of equal length. This is when the north pole starts to lean towards the sun again. It is holiday of renewal and start of the spring. It is a time to plant seed and hide eggs – the eggs have then transferred to Easter, but originally, they were symbols of rebirth. In Finland the traditional spring festival is called Suviyöt. If the suviyöt (spring nights) were cold, it meant nine more weeks of cold nights. Suviyöt lasted three nights and they were called marjayö (berry night), heinäyö (hay night) and viljayö (grain night), determined whether the year would be abundant for these crops.

4. Beltane or May Day (April 30. - May 1.)

Beltane is celebrated as the beginning of summer. Hela or Helkajuhla in Finland falls on May, which has the similar idea behind the festival. Just like during Beltane, bonfires were burnt during Hela as well. Sima (mead drink) was drank during the celebration and it was usually the first time when the cattle was led to the fields after winter. Also Vakka festival or Ukon Vakat were celebrated this time of the year. This was a celebration for Ukko, the God of weather, in order to have better weather and therefore, a better harvest.

5. Summer Solstice (or Litha) (June 19. - 23.)

During the summer solstice the day is at its longest. In Finland and in the Nordic countries, the summer solstice is celebrated as the Midsummer, when people burn bonfires, casted spells and fresh leaves were carried inside. Also, Karhunpäivä (Bear’s day) was celebrated close to Summer solstice. The bear was worshipped in order to prevent accidents and danger. 

6. Lughnasadh (August 1. - 2.)

Lughnasadh is the midpoint between summer and fall. It the celebration for giving thanks for the harvest and to enjoy the summer warmth that is still predominant.

 7. Fall equinox (or Mabon) (September 20. - 24.)

The day and night are of equal length at fall equinox, and it indicated the start of the fall.

 8. Samhain or Halloween (October 31. - November 1.)

Where Beltane is the beginning of the summer, Samhain is the beginning of winter. In Finland, Kekri was the harvest festival that was celebrated between the end of September (fall equinox) and Sahmain, later establishing the day more towards Halloween. During Samhain, pagans believed that the border between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, so it was easiest to communicate with the spirits.

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