This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project. It’s the first one of two for the letter C. You can read all posts for that project here. Initially, I wanted to write about a different C-topic but I’ve found that I’m not yet able to put my thoughts on that one into words. So here is a belated post for the letter C about a completely different topic.
For many years now, I have not regularly celebrated any specific holidays. I have thought about doing so, I have even decided with a somewhat guilty conscience that I really should do so, but in the end I never did. It’s not that I’m not aware of the Wheel of the Year, or that I wouldn’t know how to find out about other pagan holidays to celebrate. It’s just that I don’t really connect to any of them so far.
I grew up in a secular but culturally Christian family. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, birthdays and New Year’s Eve. All of these came with their own set of rituals that were repeated every year, with few variations. Since I left my parents’ household, I have kept celebrating my birthday and I kept doing a ritual for ending the old year and beginning a new one.
Since I turned 30 (an event to which I had looked forward excitedly but which was the worst birthday celebration I ever had), however, I’ve become a lot less interested in celebrating my birthdays. It became too difficult to combine the different friendships I had into one festive event, I hated organizing my own birthday party, and I eventually stopped enjoying “big” events altogether. Instead I settled on meeting up with 1-3 friends at a time, turning my birthday into several little celebrations that stretched over a few days instead of one big party. This year, the number of my friends who are close enough to meet me has dwindled to an extremely small number, so I may end up with one little get-together – if any at all.
As I started to learn about the Wheel of the Year and looked for ways it fit into my life and belief system, I eventually became rather confused about when exactly a new year started. Some pagans claimed the “witches’ year” started at Samhain (October 30/November 1). Others said it started at Yule/Midwinter (December 21). Yet others told me it began with the Spring Equinox/Ostara (March 21). I could see the logic behind all of these dates, but eventually decided that Yule made the most sense to me. Partly because I grew up with celebrating in late December anyway, but also because the turning point after which the days get longer again and the sun returns is something I do in fact see as a cause for celebration. And so Yule/Midwinter has been the one holiday I have somewhat consistently celebrated in at least some small way for the last five years.
However, I still have to navigate a thoroughly Christianity-based culture operating on the Gregorian calendar where practically everyone wishes me a “happy advent” or a “merry Christmas” and expects me to celebrate the new year along with everybody else on the day our calenders end. Not to mention the fact that Germany has two public holidays on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Without an (offline) community of like-minded pagans, I find it rather difficult to establish my own holiday dates and customs against the onslaught of the dominant culture, part of which is part of my own childhood memories.
And let’s not even start with Imbolc, Lughnasadh, Mabon, or the rest of the Wheel of the Year festivals. Yes, I’ve read up about them. I even spent a year or two doing tarot spreads based on their themes. But emotionally they still don’t mean much to me. I can intellectually connect Ostara to my childhood experience of celebrating Easter but am somewhat uncomfortable with fertility-related festivals (which might be material for another post) so I’m not celebrating it these days. I can connect Beltane vaguely to celebrating Walpurgis Night as a young adult (May 1 is a public holiday in Germany so there was always a party the night before). Walpurgis Night also has a witch connection that the young “witch-reclaiming” feminist in me could relate to and that I might be able to re-reclaim today if I made an effort: it was said to be the night when the witches flew to the Blocksberg in the Harz mountains for a big dance. However, this seems to be the one festival that really doesn’t work well for a solo celebration so I’ve skipped it as well so far. And while I see the point of harvest festivals, I’m not sure why there are three of them and what the difference between them really is. I also find it hard to connect to them as someone living in the city where there are few traces of seasonal influences in the food selections of the local supermarkets.
I also don’t celebrate any full or dark moons. Yes, I’ve read up about those as well. I’m even sometimes aware of the moon’s phases when I happen to see it in the sky. But the moon isn’t something that speaks to me spiritually. I don’t menstruate in sync with any moon cycles (I’m running at a slightly different speed), I don’t feel any mystical, magical relation of the moon to my biological femaleness, and I don’t even relate to most of the stuff that is associated spiritually with womanhood and/or femininity. And all the long hair, nail polish and bellydance I indulge in aren’t changing that one bit. Not even my femme identity changes that.
If anything, I would worship the sun. Which is why I feel slightly more connected to the solar holidays: the two solstices (midsummer = longest day, shortest night and midwinter = shortest day, longest night), and the two equinoxes in spring and fall (equally long day and night). I also feel some small connection to the natural/agricultural cycle of new growth, ripening, harvest, and hibernation/rest, so that’s something I can see myself building on in the future. Maybe it will help me to imagine what my actual ancestors, many of which were farmers, did during the different seasons.
Because I miss having some regular, meaningful celebrations in my life. I miss having special events that structure my year in a way that emotionally touches me. I even miss the getting-together aspects of holidays, no matter how skeptical I am when it comes to spiritual groups of any kind.
So this year I plan to watch the seasons more closely, pay more attention to food that would have been available a few hundred years ago, remember what little rituals I do anyway (like picking up the first chestnut I see on the ground every fall and carrying it in my pocket through winter and throwing it out somewhere in nature once spring has returned) and think about ways to elaborate them, reflect on what I associate with the seasons, etc. I hope to be coming away from that with some useful building blocks for my own calendar of celebrations. And I hope to actually create a handful of celebrations this year, to get back into the habit of having them.
What about you? What occasions do you celebrate regularly, with or without spiritual significance? What experiences have you made with creating new celebrations or adapting old ones?
(Thanks to M. for pointing out the significance of the chestnut!)