Celtic holidays have been celebrated for thousands of years in Scotland, and to this day are still recognized in modern culture.
The more famous holidays like Halloween are recognized globally for having pagan roots but there are several holidays following back to Celtic origins that are less noticed. Celtic holidays are usually dependent on the seasons and are rooted in celebrating and respecting nature.
Here are five Celtic holidays you might not have known about.
May Day, Beltane – May 1st
Beltane is celebrated on the 1st of May and is known as the Gaelic May Day. Beltane celebrations originated in Celtic nations such as Scotland and Ireland, and are one of the biggest Celtic festivals of the year. Historically, Beltane is celebrated to mark the first day of summer. Celts would perform rituals to ensure their livelihoods, such as livestock and crops, would thrive in abundance over the following season.
Celts were known for believing in rituals and traditions to bring good luck and certainly went all out with these over Beltane. Bonfires were lit, and the smoke and ash they produced were thought to have protective qualities. People would bring their cattle to the bonfires to be blessed by the smoke, and it’s thought they would jump over the fires to bless themselves. Houses would be decorated in seasonal “May flowers” and feasts and parties would be held, with offerings and sacrifices made to pagan gods.
Beltane celebrations are obviously not as recognized as a major holiday these days, but organized celebrations can still be found quite easily if you’re keen to experience them.
Summer Solstice – June 21st
Summer solstice, otherwise known as midsummer, is celebrated in Celtic culture as a way of recognizing the shortening of the days and the introduction to the winter months. It is traditionally celebrated somewhere around the 21st to the 24th of June and is meant to fall on the longest day of the year. This celebration can be traced back for thousands of years, and the most famous landmark that represents this is Stonehenge.
Summer Solstice was celebrated by lighting high fires, especially in more rural areas like the Highlands of Scotland. These celebrations were very similar to the rituals carried out over May Day, with crops and animals being blessed with the smoke of the bonfires. Some believe that people would jump through the flames, and the highest jump would represent how high crops would grow that year. People would light branches and bring the fire home to bring luck into their households. People would also light the fire and walk around their land sun-wise three times to protect their agriculture from disease and famine. Dancing, singing, feasting, and offerings followed this for hours.
This celebration died out as Christianity was brought to Celtic nations, and was replaced by St John’s day in the Christian calendar. However, lots of Midsummer celebrations still take place every year throughout Scotland and Ireland. To find out more about joining a Scottish Midsummer festival, click here.
Lughnasa – August 1st
Lughnasa is traditionally celebrated on the 1st of August and is one of the most major Celtic celebrations. This festival was usually celebrated at the worst time of the year for farming when previous crops had dried up and new crops weren’t yet ready for harvest.
People would perform rituals and traditions in hope that the new crops would blossom quickly and in abundance. This would include dances, rituals, and religious ceremonies.
As harvesting crops is less of a worry nowadays, finding a local Lughnasa festival can be difficult, however, some traditions and rituals are upheld in rural areas of Scotland and Ireland.
Fall equinox, Mabon – September 22nd
Following Lughnasa is the Fall Equinox. The fall equinox is celebrated mid-September and marks the end of fall and the start of winter, the time of the year when the day is equally as long as the night.
This festival was important for ancient Celtic times as it marked the beginning of the nights becoming longer. This is also known as a celebration of harvest, where people would gather all the food they have grown so far throughout the year, and begin to store it for winter.
Lots of cultures mark this time of year differently due to its significance in the shift of seasons.
Winter solstice – December 21st
Winter Solstice is one of the most popular and well-known Celtic celebrations, dating back to the Stone Age. This festival is used to mark the point of the year when the sun is at the lowest point of the sky, which usually falls on December the 21st. This is also known as “Yule”.
People used (and still use) this festival to wish for the returning of light and fertility. Ancient rituals include decorating the home with evergreens (like mistletoe) to encourage fertility and life within the home, a 12-day feast, lighting a fire, and deep cleaning the home.
Many of these are commonly associated with Christmas and New Years' traditions in modern times, but lots of people still choose to follow these Celtic ancient Yule Traditions.