The Wheel of the Year is a term for the annual cycle of the Earth's seasons. It consists of eight festivals, spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year. These festivals are referred to as Sabbats (pronounced /ˈsæb.ɛt/).
While the term Sabbat originated from Abrahamic faiths such as Judaism and Christianity and is of Hebrew origin, the festivals themselves have historical origins in Celtic and Germanic pre-Christian feasts celebrating Solstice and Equinox cycles.
As with all cultures' use of festivals and traditions, these festivals have been utilized by European cultures in both the pre and post Christian eras as traditional times for the community to celebrate the planting and harvest seasons. The Wheel of the Year has been important to many people both ancient and modern, from various religious as well as cultural and secular viewpoints.
The progression of birth, life, decline and death, as experienced in human lives, is echoed in the progression of the seasons. While most of these names derive from historical Celtic and Germanic festivals, the non-traditional names Litha and Mabon, which have become popular in North American Wicca, were introduced by Aidan Kelly in the 1970s.
The Wheel of the Year
IMBOLC , February 2nd , St. Brigids Day - the earth becomes fertile again
OSTARA, March 21st (approx), Spring Equinox - the earth is ripe with abundance as the sun god matures
BELTANE, May 1st, May Day - the earth becomes impregnated with next years energy
LITHA, June 21st ( approx), Summer Solstice - the planet flourishes as the sun nourishes the earth
LAMMAS, August 1st, Harvest Festival- reaping the rewards of a productive life
MABON, September 21st ( approx), Fall Equinox - the sun god is fading, gather what is left
SAMHAIN, October 31st/November 1st, Hallowenn, the old god dies
YULE, December 21st- ( approx) ,Winter Solstice- the new sun god is born
A brief summary of each day ( linked to the full article)
YULE (circa December 21)
(Winter Solstice, December 20-23( the date varies according to the particular day when the Solstice will occur astronomically). Longest night of the year, the turning point when the days shall afterwards grow longer as winter begins its passage into the coming spring. It is, in the Goddess worship, the time when she gives forth again to the birth of the Divine Sun child who shall be both child and eventually lover and father of the next child in the cycle. Winter Solstice for pagans is a time of feasting and the exchanging of gifts and is the original Holiday that the Christian religions modified into their own Christmas, even up to the birth of the child (Most theologians who have spent time studying the birth of Jesus admit he was born in either March or April, not the celebrated Christmas date we all know from the standard calendar - it was moved to this date to help induce Pagans to give up their old ways yet allow them their holidays during the spread of Christianity through Europe and the British Isles). Traditional adornments are a Yule Log, usually of oak, and a combination of mistletoe and holly (also all later plagiarized into Christian ways).
IMBOLC (February 2)
(Candlemas, Brigid's Day) Brigid is the Celtic goddess of fire and inspiration ,poetry, smithcraft and healing) as well as yet another representation of the Fertility of Femininity and Love. Brigid had such a strong following among the Celtics that the Christian church decided it was easier to assimilate her into their own system, and so there came about the making of Saint Brigit and all the stories they created about her so that her followers would leave their old beliefs and so they would not side with the Druids, who were known at that time as 'the snakes' because of their tendency to have tamed snakes that were used to help produce various healing mixtures via their venom, and who were violently opposing the Catholic church. In History, of course, the druids lost against the overwhelming odds presented by the church, led by a man who would then be himself sainted by the church, their Saint Patrick (who was no clergyman but a warrior). Thus Christian rule of various sorts came into Ireland. Handcrafts are often sacrificed to Brigid or dedicated to her as they are started on this day. Its celebration is done with many candles and as usual much feasting. The Christians also took, moved slightly and used this date by creating St. Valentine and using the day for one of chaste love reflections. Imbolc marks the recovery of the Goddess after birth of the God. The warmth of the power of the God fertilizes the Earth and so the earliest beginnings of spring occur. This is a sabbat of purification, a festival of light and fertility. This also a traditional time for initiations into covens and self-dedication rituals. Also known as: Feast of Pan, Feast of Torches, Oimelc.
OSTARA (circa March 21)
(Eostar, Spring Equinox, March 20-23 dependent on actual astronomical event) The Goddess blankets the Earth with fertility as the God stretches and grows to maturity. The hours of day and night are equal and light is overtaking darkness. This is a time of beginnings, action, planting spells, and of tending the gardens. This is the start in the pagan year of spring, at least among Wiccans and Celtics. The first flowers are praised and the God and Goddess thanked for the true return to happier times for all. Ostara is one of the more colorful holidays, not one of the somber colors found in Yule and Candlemas. Feasting and socializing are the important factors in this holiday as well as the celebration of the return of color to the natural world. In the Christian calendar, again to draw early worshipers, they marked this as the final days and rebirth of Jesus (when according to history he died in June!)
BELTANE (MAY 1)
(May Eve, April 30th-May 1st) Most important to pagans, save for Samhain, I don't know of any Pagan group that doesn't celebrate this holiday in some way. Beltane is the great Fertility rite of life, starting at dusk on the 30th and continuing until the dawn of the 1st. The union of the God and Goddess to conceive the sun-child to be takes place upon this holiday, no matter which tradition of paganism is involved. Beltane is the one holiday most discouraged by the Christians, who didn't even use it as a point for a holiday of their own because the power and nature of the day involved. Still, even in Christianized Ireland the May Day dance of the Maypole remained, as did the giving of flowers to those you loved or cared for as friends. The Maypole is a symbol of the union of the God and Goddess to create life, the pole itself a phallic symbol while the dancers and their streamers or vines of flowers represent the fertile womb of the goddess as it takes in the Phallus of the god and takes in his seed. Besides the Maypole often a bonfire is present, and members of the group are encouraged to jump the flames for luck and their own fertility. Food, drink and love are the order of the evening. In most sects the celebration of unions of love are enacted. Beltane is the time of many marriages/handfastings in the pagan community (in some it is the point where one chooses to begin and end relationships of a physical nature). Clothing is very optional in most get-togethers on this holiday, and mostly it is sensual and colorful. Even those sects that are prudish about things tend to accept the rules of the holiday, as it is the holiday of free love. It is said that a child conceived on this day will grow up to wield great power and knowledge and to be healthier than upon any other.
LITHA(circa June 21)
(Midsummer, Summer Solstice, June 20-23, dependent on actual astronomical event) Held on the longest day of the year, the Solstice is the celebration of light's triumph over darkness and that of the bountiful beauty that light brings into life. Flowers are common in the circle, roses and bright cheerful wildflowers are upon the altar and usually worn by all. It is the changing point of the year, and the celebration of the spiral dance of the year is common among Wiccans. It a celebration with much joy, and much feasting. Many wiccans will attire themselves in bright colors and equally bright adornments of flowers. Litha's usual food fare may include honeycakes or cornbread. Litha is not celebrated by all sects nor in the same way. In the past, bonfires were leapt to encourage fertility, purification, health and love. Midsummer is a classic time for magick of all kinds.
The great corn ritual of Wiccan belief (in Celtic realms this is the celebration of the wheat god, corn is an Americanization and it is possible there is an American Indian traditional holiday near this date that was borrowed by the American Neopagans). This is the big celebration of the harvest (Sort of a Pagan Thanksgiving, but the time clock is different as is that of the Celtics). Much feasting and dancing occur, though it is a bit more somber than many of the other holidays. Some Pagans celebrate this day as mearly the day to bake their bread and cakes for the coming winter and do no actual rituals save that of blessing the foods prepared. Pagans see this as a time when the God loses his strength as the Sun rises farther south each day and the nights grow longer. The Goddess watches in sorrow and joy as she realizes the the God is dying yet lives on inside her as her child. As summer passes, Wiccans remember its warmth and bounty in the food we eat. This sabbat is also called Lammas, August Eve, Feast of Bread.
MABON (circa September 21)
(Fall Equinox, Sept. 20-23, dependent on actual astronomical event) This is the weavers festival, and a braiding of cords are done in the process of casting a spell to add to ones life. The autumn equinox is the completion of the harvest begun at Lammas. Once again the day and night are equal as the God prepares to leave the body and the begin the great adventure into the unseen, toward renewal and rebirth of the Goddess.
SAMHAIN (October 31)
At Samhain, the Wicca say farewell to the God even though he readies to be reborn at Yule. This grand sabbat, also known as Feast of the Dead ,Feast of Apples, All Hallows, and of course Halloween, once marked the time of sacrifice. This was the time when animals were slaughtered to ensure food throughout the winter. The God fell as well to ensure our continuing existence. This is a time of reflection and coming to terms with the one thing in life which we have no control - death. Wiccans feel that on this night the separation between the physical and spiritual realities is it's least guarded and it's veil the thinnest. It is a time for dimensional openings and workings, and also the celebration of the death of the year king. It is a somber holiday, one of dark clothes and thoughts for the dead, it is said to be the time when those of necromantic talents can speak with the dead and it is certainly a time to remember ones dead. It is a time of endings of relationships and bad situations and it is the time when one can see the glimmer of hope in the future. There are as many concepts attached to this holiday as any other, truly a time of remembrance of our ancestors and all those who have gone before.