Pagan Holidays

Many modern Pagans observe an annual cycle of festivals called the Wheel of the Year. Seasonal events such as solstices and equinoxes are the integral parts of it. Sometimes, four other events are added defined as midpoints between a solstice and equinox. Some followers of modern Pagan traditions, for example, Wiccans often celebrate all those festivals. According to many authors, ancient Pagan holidays played an important role in the formation of several major Christian celebrations, especially in case of Christmas and Easter.

The general story of the death and resurrection of deities was a well known theme in the ancient world. In the Babylonian mythology, the first full moon after the vernal equinox was considered a day next to the goddess Inanna’s (later known as Ishtar) return from the underground world. This was also a day for ritual re-enactment of her marriage to Tammuz, another Babylonian god.

One of the oldest myths of resurrection is about the Egyptian god Horus, and this figure became the symbol of life and rebirth. Mithra from the ancient Persian religion is another divine being associated with the resurrection myth. His followers celebrated the spring equinox, the time when Mithra ascended into heaven.

Winter solstice or midwinter was called Yule in Germanic Pagan tradition. From this moment, the duration of day starts to increase. Therefore, previous night is the longest night of the year called Solstice Night and the sun's rebirth was celebrated by Pagans, as it is in case of modern followers of Pagan traditions.

European Pagans in these days are mostly influenced by Celtic and Germanic rituals and festivals. In addition to Yule, seasonal events have their respective names in these traditions. Spring equinox is called Ostara, summer solstice – midsummer day, or Litha, autumn equinox – Mabon or Michaelmas, and midpoint days had following names: February 2 – Candlemas, Imbolc (lamb’s milk) or Oimelc; April 30 or early May – Beltane, May Day, Walpurgis Night; August 2/early August – Lughnasadh or Lammas; and October 31 or early November – Samhain, Halloween, All Hallows Eve, etc. From these festivals, Halloween is most popular in our days and celebrated not only by Pagans, but by ordinary people and became commercialized event in the world. It is also a new year in Wiccan tradition.

Pagan traditions among Slavic tribes too envisaged celebration of solstices and other events of such kind. Winter and summer solstices were among the greatest festivals for Slavic people. Summer solstice was called Kupala Night or Ivan Kupala Day, and was celebrated and still is in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russian and Lithuania (although the latter is not a Slavic country). The origin of this holiday was connected to the Pagan fertility rite of ancient Slavic people. The tradition of Kupala is pre-Christian but after the arrival of Christianity, it obtained the name “Ivan Kupala”, which reflects the influence of Christian Saint John the Baptist, because word “Kupala” is related to a Slavic word for bathing, and John is known for baptizing people through the immersion in water.

In Georgia, located in Caucasus region, many Pagan holidays were observed, which became gradually absorbed by local Orthodox Christianity. One of the festivals with Pagan roots is Lomisoba, celebrated in the mountainous region of eastern Georgia, seven weeks after the Easter. Local people ask Saint George to ensure fertility and prosperity in their lives and forgive their sins. Although, this holiday bears some signs of ancient pre-Christian ritual and Saint Georgie in this case is associated with local deity of Pagan times. Another famous religious holiday in mountainous part of eastern Georgia is called Lasharoba and St. Georgia is a central character of this festival too. In general, this saint is very popular in Georgia and sometimes even the name of the whole country is associated with it. Western Georgia regions, particularly Svaneti region, are also rich with folklore and ancient festivals, for example, Lamproba, which were held on February 1, i.e. on one of the midpoint days between solstices and equinoxes. This holiday was concentrated around a fertility, as were many Pagan festivals in Georgia.