A Hedge Witch’s Calendar of Holidays
Several months ago, I decided to write down and formalize my own cycle of holidays. While I’ve been inspired in some ways by some of the Wiccan and Celtic holidays, not all of them have meaning for me and I don’t feel comfortable celebrating them. I realized that I need a cycle of holidays that doesn’t feel tacked onto my life; they need to be a natural part of the rhythm of my life, highlighting what I value and find reflected within my practices, community and environment.
Some of these are holidays that I’ve celebrated since I was a kid that have a slightly new meaning for me now; others, I started celebrating later because they fill a void by honoring something significant to me and give me satisfaction and meaning at certain points of the year.
December 20-January 1
Twelve Days of Yule
The Twelve Days stems from die Zwolften, originating in Germany, and takes place during the deepest part of winter. In Christian tradition, the Twelve Days starts on Christmas Eve, but it makes more sense (for many reasons) for me to start celebrating on the solstice. The Yuletide begins the day after Thanksgiving for us, but the Twelve Days are the core of it.
We decorate a Yule tree and deck the house with evergreens, nutcrackers, Weinachtspyramide, snow scenes, etc. We build a fire in the hearth and read ghost stories before it. We give gifts and set out cookies and milk for Father Christmas. It’s a cozy, hearth-based holiday that celebrates the warmth of home and loved ones within the darkest part of the year.
It’s easier for me to cross the hedge in the fall and winter months, and this is the time in many cultures where the divisions between this world and the Otherworld are less firm, so this is a time particularly dedicated to spirit work and hedge crossing as well.
This is also a time to honor Frau Holle, goddess of traditional women’s crafts, the domestic sphere, and winter (especially winter weather). I want to do more to honor her from now on, as she’s been a huge influence in my life for a couple of years and I’ve been moving into deeper work with her. I’ll probably reserve the 24th and 25th for Father Christmas, focus the solstice and the New Year on Frau Holle, and do a blend or personal work on the other days.
Speaking of the New Year, this is also a time of endings and beginnings – the hinge of the annual cycle. It just seems natural to me that the beginning of the year would start, like all things, in darkness. So the New Year is still at the tail end of the Twelve Days for me (rather than on Samhain, per the Celtic calendar).
This is inspired by Imbolc, Candlemas, and Groundhog Day. The term “first stirrings” denotes the various ways that the imminent birth of spring begins taking root at this time – the soon-to-be-born lambs are stirring in the ewe’s womb, and the ewes begin lactating to prepare for the birth; the bulbs of the first spring flowers are beginning to stir in the ground; hibernating animals are coming to the end of their long “sleep.” It’s a time for the first movements of unseen things that will eventually come to fruition. As such, it’s a great time for I Ching divination, as doing so looks ahead at approaching changes.
As I mentioned above, the darker time of the year means shadow and spirit work for me (looking deeply inward and increasing interaction with the Otherworld), so on this day I wrap up that work until autumn comes again. Therefore, it’s also a time for a return to the light with the wisdom that came from that descent.
I love the tradition of putting candles in the windows on the Eve as a beckoning for the spirit of Spring. A good hearth fire also plays a part, as February is the coldest month where I live. We have a candlelit dinner with cheese fondue, freshly baked bread, and Grannysmith apples. During the day, I always plan to make candles but never get around to it – maybe I will this time around.
Shaking the Dust
This is when spring emerges where I live. I like the idea of making this a time for spring cleaning – dusting off the dregs of winter and darkness and emerging fresh and clean. So this is my holiday for self-purification as well as freshening up my home. Because it’s a lengthy process to deep-clean a whole house, it begins the week before the equinox, which serves as the culmination of the process.
Brooms are hugely symbolic for me, so I start with a broom blessing. Then I spend each consecutive day deep-cleaning, cleansing and dedicating each space in the house for its purpose. Then I cleanse myself.
It is significant that this is a time of balance of the dark and the light, which is a hugely important concept in Taoism. The cleansing, therefore, is not about shrugging off or suppressing “darkness” in favor of the “light.” This is a time to center myself, to dwell in the hinge of my existence in which I am neither my shadow nor my higher self and remember the root of my existence, which is limitless and inexplicable. I shake off the dust of preconceptions and socially determined morality in order to remember what is constant and true.
Late March to Early April
Growing up, Easter was a secular holiday for my family, and I’ve always enjoyed it as such and want to share it with my son. It’s such a great day for kids.
To me, this is basically Children’s Day, a day to celebrate children, youth and renewal. So we do the traditional Easter basket stuffed with fruits and chocolates left at the front door by the Easter Bunny (the spirit of Spring, in my mind), coloring eggs, brunch (I really like fruit crepes), and an Easter egg hunt. This year, we took a trip to the local botanical gardens.
April 30-May 1
Walpurgisnacht & May Day
Walpurgisnacht is a primal celebration of the coming summer with strong heathen overtones — bonfires are lit, wild dancing and feasting occurs in celebration, and witches are believed to congregate on mountain tops for their sabbaths. May Day, in contrast, is essentially a springtime Valentine’s Day — professions and gifts of love are made and given, picnics are had, a Maibaum (may pole) is erected and ribbons wound about it as a symbol of fertility and growth. I just recently started celebrating this holiday in an effort to reconnect with my German heritage and memories of living in Germany as a child as well as my entrance into heathenry. I’d like to make it more of a communal celebration in the future, but this year, it was more private. I poured libations to wights, household spirits, deities who had presented themselves to me recently, and my ancestors. My husband and I built a fire in our backyard, drank a couple of beers, and just enjoyed each other’s company.
For me, the height of summer is about extroversion, being out in the world, interacting with others, celebrating life and connecting with our bodies. It means reconnecting with wild nature – communicating with the trees, the grasses and herbs and flowers, the animals that run about at this time, and building relationships with and learning from them. Where winter is a time to honor the hearth and inner fires, Midsummer is a time to honor the outer fires of community bonds and our connections with nature as human animals.
This isn’t a holiday that I’ve always celebrated, but I really connect with it. It’d be a great time to host a garden party with friends and family, food and drink. The fireflies are out at this time, so ideally it would start in the evening and extend into the night for firefly viewing as well as moon viewing if it’s clear out. We’d have a fire in our fire bowl, play music, dance and imbibe.
First Monday (and the preceding weekend) of September
This is the beginning of the apple harvest in the Southeast, and there are some pretty major apple festivals held in various towns at this time. This is also Labor Day weekend, which celebrates the hard work done thus far over the year. It’s a time to honor those who do the often thankless jobs that keep society afloat as well as enjoy the fruits of our own labor. Crafts are a big thing at these festivals, and I honor that aspect of my practice during this time as well.
We start out the holiday by visiting an apple festival, which includes drinking locally made cider, eating treats like apple pie and apple ice cream, and buying fresh apples from local orchards. We also go camping, where we reconnect with the earth, eat campfire food, and spend uninterrupted (i.e. no computers, no phone usage, no work) time together. We rest and enjoy the fruits of our labor, whatever they may be.
First few weeks of October
As I mentioned before, I feel very connected to my German heritage, and this is a big holiday in Bavaria, where I spent about half of my childhood. While it originated as a celebration in honor of Prince Ludwig’s wedding in 1810, it has evolved into a cultural and harvest festival centered around beer.
Beer is sacred to me. As Wikipedia claims:
Beer is one of the world’s oldest prepared beverages, possibly dating back to the early Neolithic or 9500 BC, when cereal was first farmed, and is recorded in the written history ofancient Iraq and ancient Egypt. Archaeologists speculate that beer was instrumental in the formation of civilizations.
Beer is humble and earthy while also highly complex (at least, the good beers are). Beers embody the souls of the places and people that created them – the grains, the spices and/or herbs, the water, the hops. What you drink when you drink beer is the fruit of the earth, clean water, and the wisdom, tastes and hard work of the brewers. Drinking beers aligned with the seasons can very much be a part of any practice.
Beer also has magical and spiritual value. With alcohol being a psychoactive substance, beer can sometimes help to facilitate trance states by its gently sedative effect. (Note: you don’t have to get drunk in order for this to work, and being blackout drunk is sloppy, dangerous, and will just make you pass out instead of leading you anywhere – always drink responsibly, and only if you’re of legal age to do so). In addition, brewed alcoholic drinks are associated with wisdom and the power of prophecy in many, many cultures across the world. So (curbing this digression) I honor beer and the art of brewing at this time.
Beer also brings people together. Beer tents and beer gardens are a big thing at Oktoberfests (and, really, any German Volksfests), where strangers and friends gather together at large tables to drink beer together, and there are lots of stalls for crafts and agricultural shows, and fair rides, and there’s dancing and traditional music. It’s a time to reconnect with the community, enjoy good food and drink, and have a good time. In the States, it’s a chance for all German Americans (regardless of the state of origin of their ancestors) to celebrate their cultural heritage, and I really love it because it brings back well-loved memories for me and reconnects me to some of my ancestors.
This is a night of spirits and shadows. We watch scary (especially supernatural horror) movies, host or attend a costume party, trick-or-treat with our son, emulate and even celebrate the things that frighten us. It’s a time to be both scared and scary. It’s become my Witch’s Night – a night of power to celebrate my participation in mystery. I like to break out the ouija board and other divination/spirit communication methods on this night.
Last year, I set up an altar on the back porch for ancestors and other spirits coming by. This year, I want to make a point to honor the spirits I’ve been working with as well.
This is also the time that I’ll begin my annual descent into shadow work – either by working through personal issues or just acknowledging that darker side in order to maintain balance. I also reestablish home and personal protection spells for my household for the next year.
Last Thursday of November
This has always been about food and family for me – gathering together around a big table, eating and laughing and being thankful for what we have. It’s a good time to honor ancestors, too. And, of course, post-dinner nature walks. This is the last harvest festival and the doorway to the Yuletide.