The Irish calendar - staying grounded with the 8 seasonal holidays
By: Brendan Patrick Keane | Published Saturday, February 20, 2010, 11:10 AM | Updated Friday, September 9, 2011, 9:29 PM
The Irish calendar is divided into four quarter days, and four cross-quarter days, that help communities stay grounded in the seasons.
The wheel above depicts 8 seasonal holidays that mark the solstices, the equinoxes and the four days in between them called the cross quarter days.
Some cultures call the Equinox and Solstice the start of the season. The Irish start the seasons between them with cross-quarter holidays--Imbolc, Bealtine, Lughnasadh, Samhain--and think of the equinoxes and solstices as the zenith of the seasons.
ST. BRIGHID'S DAY - IMBOLC
We celebrated Saint Brighid's Day yesterday. The older Celtic holiday is called Imbolc. On this day, winter begins giving way to Spring, which is personified as a cailleach or wisened woman preparing to become a maiden again. The Bogha Bríde or Bríd's Cross is the symbol of the day and is made by weaving straw or reeds as can be seen in the video here
. The figure of Bríd is enormously important to Irish imagination. As a Saint, she was the leader of a nunnery in Cill Dara
where 19 nuns attended an eternal flame of life. (1ú Feabhra, 1st of February)
ST.PATRICK'S DAY - SPRING EQUINOX
Irish all over the world celebrate St.Patrick's Day. It celebrates revelation, and happens usually a few days before the Spring or Vernal Equinox that marks the Middle of the Spring season which began on Imbolc and ends in Bealtaine.
(17ú Máirt, mid-March)
May Day is another cross-quarter day like Saint Brigid's Day. It's the first day of summer. May pole dances are held all over the world. In Ireland
bonfires on hilltops were common and are being revived with summer festivals. The most famous bonfire in Ireland was held at Uisneach, the Omphalos or Navel of "mother" Ireland as the island was conceived and so named for. Ireland is named for the woman Éire or Éiru. At Uisneach is the Ail na Míreann or Stone of Division in the form of a quincunx. The quincunx is Latin for the Irish concept--cúige--or province, which divides Ireland in five provinces with Mí in the middle, Uladh north, Mumhan south, Connacht
west and Laighean east. The bonfire at Uisneach announced the start of summer.(1ú Bealtine, 1st of May)
MIDSUMMER - SUMMER SOLSTICE
In Irish the solstice is called grianstad or sunstop as describes the experience of watching the sun takes its path across the daytime sky. At summer solstice--the day we are closest to the sun and swelling with all its fruit-giving light--the day is longest, and appears to stand still at noon because it moves so much more slowly. Whereas on winter solstice, for example, the sun crosses the daytime sky quickly, and the day is shortest--"exactly" one year from the summer solstice. Áine (Ir. "brightness, glow, joy, radiance; splendour, glory, fame") of the sí at Cnoc Áine in Limerick
is to Midsummer what Jesus is to Christmas. (mid-June)
As Bríd is the woman who starts the spring in the winter with her kindling, Lú or Lugh is the man who starts the autumn in the summer. August is the month of the hurling semi-finals. It's the clash of the ash, and the harvest time with scythes begins. Lugh is called ildánach, the all-arts God and inventor of chess. As a man of so many interests, his is the busiest time of preparation and hard work, when the grain is harvested for bread making, berries and fruits are plucked because it's ripening time, gatherings are held before its too cold to travel, market festivals, horse races and reunions with distant family and friends. Among the Irish it was a favored time for handfastings or trial marriages that expired or were renewed after a year of attachment. Lugh's foster-mother gave her name to the Tailteann which were the Irish Olympics and renewed by William Butler Yeats
to honor Lugh's mother who died clearing the land of Ireland for agriculture or what we call "the organic." (1ú Lúnasa, 1st of August)
Called the Lá Leathach in Irish it means the Equal Halves Day, when night and day are of equal duration, as also happens around St.Patrick's Day usually March 21st or so, at the Vernal Equinox. The Lá Leathach an Fómhair, the Autumn Equinox, happens in the middle of the Fall. The Irish months for fall are called Meán Fómhair (middle Fall or September) and Deireadh Fómhair (end of Fall or October) and the Equinox usually happens around (September 21st) The cornucopia is its symbol as all the harvest is collected and the food for the winter is hoped to be plentiful. The corn of plenty is a gyre or vortex that spirals from a singular point in nothingness outwards into the full flesh bounty of life's harvest.
As the New Year's Day of Celtic thinking, Samhain (sounds like "souw-in") happens between two days Oíche Shamhna (October 31st) and Lá na Marbh (November 1st). The Oíche is associated with the unconscious and is the time when the chthonic world mixes in with the normal world. The Lá na Marbh is the Irish Day of the Dead, or All Soul's Day, and is a holiday that begins the Winter Time. This is the time of the cailleach or wisened woman, who is later demonized as a witch. Modern Wiccans often just take from living Celtic traditions such as the Irish what they want post-modernly. Authenticity is a major problem with Samhain. (1ú Samhain, 31st of October)
CHRISTMAS -- WINTER SOLSTICE
The winter solstice is a holiday claimed by everybody. Christians made is Christ's birthday, God bless the little baby, and before them, the pan-theistic religions of ancient Ireland celebrated other gods. The most fascinating example of ancient megalithic architecture is to be found in Ireland at Newgrange. It is so esteemed because on the Winter Solstice, the day is short and the building does something special with this precious light. On the Winter Solstice, exactly and to this day, a shaft of light inches up the main chamber of the mounded Stongehenge in Meath
until it reaches the famous spirals of the inner womb-like chamber and makes for an emotional light show inside. It's older than even the Egyptian pyramids, and it's how the Irish have long recognized the phenomena of Mid Winter. (21ú Nollaig, mid December)