The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year. The sun is at its lowest and weakest. This usually happens around the 21st of December.
In early pagan Scandinavia, this was the time of “Yule”—their winter festival. They celebrated by burning the hearth fires of the magically significant Yule log. In Celtic druid culture, the Winter Solstice was celebrated by hanging sacred mistletoe over a doorway or in a room to offer goodwill to all those who visited. Germanic tribes decorated a fir tree with candles and tokens. The Inca, however, held midwinter ceremonies at temples that served as astronomical observatories like Machu Picchu.
Many of these traditions have continued for thousands of years despite efforts to eliminate them. Our modern Christmas is a mix of all of these—and the Roman festivals, too.
Now known as St. Patrick’s Day, but known as Spring or Vernal Equinox to the ancients—this holiday occurred in the middle of March and marks the very beginning of Spring. This is a time when days and nights are of equal length on Earth.
Ancient influences from the worship of the goddess Eostre have persisted in the form of what we would now call Easter eggs. To the ancients, these were fertility symbols. The rabbit, or hare, is also a leftover from early celebrations. The egg and rabbit, or hare, stand for rebirth, spring and fertility.
To mark Midsummer and the longest day of the year, the ancients would hold a celebration around June 21st. The only full moon in June is called the Honey Moon. Tradition stated that this would be the best time to harvest honey from hives, and this happened to be a popular time for marriage to take place—because of the events association with fertility gods and goddesses. Slav and Celt tribes would celebrate this time with massive bonfires and people would jump over the embers for luck. In Scandinavia, women would bathe in rivers.
The ancients believed that celebrating Summer Solstice would recognize and strengthen the connection of humans and nature.
The Autumnal Equinox takes place around September 23rd or 24th. This time has also been known as Mabon, Harvest Home and Michaelmas.
The Romans celebrated the fall by worshipping Pomona, the goddess of fruits and growing things. They would hold a feast with a large goose which had been fed on the fields after the harvest.
In ancient England, the last sheaf of corn harvested was made into a doll that would represent the “spirit of the field.” This doll would then be covered with water and burned to represent the importance of “rain” and to represent the death of the grain spirit. The Polish would celebrate this time by bringing food for blessing by a priest. They would then use that blessed fruit as medicine or keep it until the following year’s harvest.