Pagan Holidays: Sabbats, Feast Days & Festivals Around the World
Samhain is for witches and creepy pagans. Especially if you like ghost hunting, watching horror movies, and singing witchy songs at the top of your lungs. Or how about the pagan versions of Easter and Christmas? Yes, they exist. You can even celebrate fertility and passion on one of the many fire festivals occurring annually worldwide. So no matter the ancient culture, there’s a pagan holiday or two to explore. If you’re new to the world of paganism, or you’re just curious, we present some of the Wiccan sabbats and other pagan holidays here.
The Celtic Pagan Holidays
The Celts were an ancient people whose empire (it wasn’t a unified empire, but we’re calling it this for now) once stretched from the British Isles to Turkey. When most people hear Celtic, they think Irish, which is correct. But there were also the Gaulish Celts (now modern day France), Celts in Germany and even in Northern Italy and Spain. So if you have European ancestry, you likely had Celtic ancestors at one point in time. The Celtic pagan holidays that we know most about are still celebrated in Ireland, and some throughout the world as part of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year…also called the sabbats.
1. Imbolc: Celtic Pagan Holiday
On Imbolc, also called St. Brigid’s Day, we recognize the initial breaking of winter ground into spring (early stages) and the milking of the ewes. We celebrate Saint Brigid and Goddess Brigid, and ready ourselves for warmer days to come. Light every lamp in the house, or light candles in each room to represent the sun’s rebirth. If snow is on the ground, or falling, walk around in it and draw a sun with your projective hand. Make Saint Brigid’s crosses or dolls to celebrate Saint Brigid. A bonfire is appropriate as the ancients tended Saint Brigid’s flame for years, never letting it burn out.
2. Beltane: Celtic Fire Festival
Beltane is celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere on May 1st and in the Southern Hemisphere on November 1st. This Celtic pagan holiday is a fire festival. And in ancient times was focused on fertility rites and purification. Cattle were driven between two giant bonfires to cleanse them of any evil and prepare them for the Summer. People danced and made love around the fire. And celebrated the sun’s rulership over the sky. Today, Wiccans and modern pagans carry on some of the old Beltane traditions and have added a few of their own. Cleansing rituals, fertility rites, and any fire working is appropriate on this Celtic pagan holiday.
3. Litha: Pagan Holiday Celebrating the Summer Solstice
Summer solstice, also called Litha, is the longest day of the year. It’s celebrated around June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere and around December 22nd in the Southern. At this time, we honor the wedding of heaven and earth and the sun in all its glory. Also a fire festival, so bonfires and lighting candles are appropriate. Make a cloth pouch of herbs such as lavender, chamomile, St. John’s Wort, Vervain, or others. Mentally pour all troubles into this pouch as you construct it. Burn in balefire and visualize troubles burning and blowing away for good. Put out offerings of cake, milk, ale or mead for the faeries. This is a pagan holiday on which the fae are particulary active.
4. Lughnasadh: Celtic First Harvest Festival
Not only is Lughnasadh the first of three Celtic harvest festivals, it also honors the beloved Celtic god of many skills, Lugh. It is celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere on August 1st and in the Southern on February 1st. It was traditional to climb a hill and be close to the sun, therefore to Lugh, on this day. Other traditions include giving offerings to Lugh, harvest gods and the land. Modern pagans who celebrate also like to pick blackberries, make blackberry pie, make sun bread (a pagan harvest symbol), feast, and drink wine.
5. Mabon: 2nd Celtic Harvest Festival
Mabon is the second of the three Celtic harvest sabbats and occurs at the autumnal equinox when the season changes from summer to fall. At this time, day and night are divided equally and we pay respect to impending night. Druids celebrate Green Man; Wiccans celebrate the aging Goddess who is turning from Mother into Crone and the God preparing for death and rebirth. It is also called the Witches’ Thanksgiving, as feasting and drinking wine is traditional. If you’ve grown herbs or vegetables, this is a time to harvest and incorporate into your Mabon feast.
6. Samhain: A Pagan Holiday of the Dead
Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) is the third of the Celtic harvest festivals and a popular modern pagan holiday. In America and other places throughout the world, Samhain is also known as Halloween. But Halloween is essentially the modernized version of this ancient Celtic feast of the dead. Samhain is celebrated on October 31st in the Northern Hemisphere and April 30th in the Southern Hemisphere.
Samhain is the Pagan new year and night of the dead, when the spiritual world has its thinnest veil. This means ghosts, fae, and other spirits are most active on this night. This sabbat honors the year’s last harvest— anything harvested after Samhain belongs to the fay and is not to be eaten by humans. We honor our ancestors at this time. Dumb Suppers are traditional, as well as trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, bobbing for apples, guising, divination and other fun customs.
Norse and Germanic Pagan Holidays and Sabbats
There are actually quite a few Norse and Germanic pagan holidays, so we aren’t going to list them all here. However, we will list the more popular ones.
1. Ostara: The Germanic Pagan Easter and Sabbat
Ostara, also known as the Vernal Equinox, marks the changing of the season and the arrival of spring. The earth’s rebirth and awakening from a long, harsh winter as well as fertility and motherhood are celebrated. This Germanic pagan Easter is also part of the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, and it is celebrated around March 21st in the North. And September 21st in the South. Collect wildflowers from a field or, at the very least, a florist shop. Plant seeds, do gardening and yard work. Herb magic. Make an Ostara wreath. Paint or dye eggs; celebrate the Easter bunny with Easter baskets. Decorate an Ostara (Easter) Tree.
2. Walpurgisnacht: Witches’ Night
Interestingly, Walpurgisnacht is the Germanic pagan holiday that falls on the same night as the Celtic fire festival Beltane. Also called Hexennacht (Witches’ Night) in Germany, this is traditionally a night when witches were believed to gather on the Brocken (the tallest peak in the Harz Mountains) and celebrate the changing of the season. In modern Germany, this is a night that’s celebrated in similarity to the American Halloween: with costumes, prank-playing, and making lots of noise to keep evil spirits away.
Walpurgisnacht is celebrated in various places in Northern Europe including in Germany, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic. In ancient times, this pagan holiday was associated with the god Freyr and the goddess Freya, fertility and fire.
3. Modraniht: Mothers’ Night
Modraniht, or Mothers’ Night, falls on the eve of the Winter Solstice or on Christmas Eve. Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors celebrated this pagan holiday in which mother goddesses, female ancestral spirits, and mothers were honored. It’s in close relation to the Disablot of other Germanic traditions in which offerings are made to the Disir.
4. Krampusnacht: Krampus Night
Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, is a modern celebration on December 5th based on ancient pagan origins in which Krampus visits and punishes misbehaving children. Krampus, who looks like the Devil with long horns, fur, and sharp teeth, is said to be the grandson of the Norse trickster god Loki. For centuries, Krampus and Krampusnacht were banned in central European countries like Austria and Germany, but the law couldn’t keep people from celebrating scary sh*t for too long. Because Krampusnacht is back in modern times and now being celebrated across the world with Krampus parades, costumes, and parties.
5. Yule or Jól: Winter Solstice
On this sabbat, we celebrate the winter solstice, which is the longest night of the year. Wiccans remember the death of the Holly King and the rebirth of the Oak King (giver of light), and the rebirth of the Sun god. We honor family and friends with gift-giving and feasting. This Germanic pagan holiday symbolizes the return of the sun’s reign over the sky – the days will once again become longer than the nights. In some traditions, a full twelve nights makes up the Yule festival: beginning at the Winter Solstice and ending 12 nights later. During this time, spirits are active including the procession of the Wild Hunt. And Odin flies through the skies. Odin is believed to be the forefather of the modern Santa Claus.
6. Disablot: Germanic Pagan Holiday Celebrating Female Ancestral Spirits
One of the most interesting Germanic pagan holidays is Disablot (in our opinion). Disablot is also called Disting and is celebrated on February 2nd. This is a time when we notice the Earth is being reborn and a time to prepare for planting. Disablot translates to Disir and Sacrifice, which means that giving offerings to the Disir is traditional in Heathen traditions. The Disir are rooted in mythology and Norse pagan religion and are believed to be the female ancestral spirits of the people and land. Sometimes the Norns and the Valkyries are included in the Disir.
7. Álfablót: Pagan Elven Sacrifice
On Álfablót, our Scandinavian ancestors celebrated the Elves towards the end of Autumn by sacrificing and gifting them offerings. Some people equate this holiday to Samhain or Halloween, because of the timing and its “creepy” customs. There’s a lot of secrecy around Álfablót, as rituals were mostly practiced indoors or somewhere private on a family-by-family basis. The woman of the household is said to have led these rites, and sometimes sacrifices were poured out on the burial mounds of the family’s ancestors. Interestingly, the elves were thought to be the ancestral spirits of each family. Isn’t it also intriguing these ancestral rites occurred around the same time as ancestral rites in the Celtic countries?
Roman Pagan Holidays
Before the Church was a thing in ancient Rome, the people were pagan. They believed in spirits and had many gods and goddesses. Which also meant they celebrated these spirits and deities with festivals and rituals year-round. Here’s a few of the Roman pagan holidays.
1. Lupercalia: The Pagan Valentine’s Day
Lupercalia, also known as the Pagan Valentine’s Day, is an ancient Roman pagan holiday of fertility and purification. It’s celebrated from February 14th to the 15th and predates Valentine’s Day by centuries! Every year, the ancient Romans would perform rituals and throw parties all in the name of purification. To purify the city of Rome on this festival guaranteed a good crop, plenty of pregnant ladies, and overall good health and happy people. Some sources suggest Lupercalia predates ancient Rome. The name is linked to the wolf (lupus) and therefore the priesthood, the Luperci, were the Brotherhood of the Wolf. Tradition included the brotherhood running through the city streets, whipping all who came near to ensure a good harvest and fertility (among other naughty customs).
Floralia is an ancient Roman pagan holiday celebrated around April 28th. It’s purpose? To honor the goddess Flora, as well as promote fertility and pleasure. And yes, you guessed right, flowers were a key feature to this festival, as Flora was the patron goddess of flowers. Wild parties were thrown which included gladiator contests, lots of drinking, plays and music, circus events and nude dances. The ancient Romans sacrificed to Flora in a sacred grove maintained by Flora’s priesthood. To celebrate in modern times – drink wine, make love, attend a play or theatrical performance, decorate your altar and yourself in flowers, etc.
3. Veneralia: A Roman Pagan Holiday Honoring Venus
An epithet of the goddess Venus known as Venus Verticordia was honored on Veneralia, a Roman pagan holiday occurring on April 1st. Venus Verticordia gave the power to turn lust to chastity and was typically appeased by offerings and by her priestesses bathing and dressing her statue. Apparently young women would invoke Venus Verticordia’s aid in all matters of love including sex and marriage. Today, you can honor Venus Verticordia by taking a ritual bath and invoking a sense of self-love and purity.
The Festival of Mercury, also called Mercuralia, is held around the 15th of May annually. This pagan holiday calls on Mercury to bless merchants and their businesses. Apparently blessed water from an ancient well was sprinkled on dedicants’ heads and their goods. This would bring them prosperity and good luck. If you own your own business, celebrating this particular pagan holy day may be of benefit to you!
5. Festival of Diana (Nemoralia)
Diana, the Roman goddess of the moon and witchcraft, is honored on her festival day called Nemoralia. Nemoralia comes around every year and is held on August 13th through the 15th. This festival must have been a sight to behold in ancient times, as a beautiful procession of people holding torches and wearing floral garlands circled Diana’s sacred lake. I can almost hear them singing her praises, chanting otherworldly words, and invoking the divine huntress. In addition, one of Diana’s sacred animals (dogs) were dressed with flowers. Prior to the procession, it was customary for women to wash their hair and then dress it with flowers. If you’re a devotee of Diana, Nemoralia is a great day to celebrate her presence in your life.
6. Saturnalia: A Roman Pagan Christmas
The Romans’ winter holiday was Saturnalia, observed in mid-December annually. Of course the whole point was to honor the god Saturn, for whom this pagan holiday was named. But there was also gift-giving, tree-decorating and general merriment among the Romans. Interestingly, the ancient Romans sacrificed a young pig, if they could afford to do so, which seems to have been a commonplace practice in Europe at this time. The Norse and Germanic peoples did the same…and even today we uphold this practice with the annual Christmas ham! Scholars claim the traditions of Saturnalia, along with other European winter holiday customs, influenced modern day Christmas.
Greek Pagan Holidays
Just like the ancient Romans, the ancient Greeks had dozens of festivals honoring their deities and spirits. We introduce you to a few here that are still being celebrated in modern times.
1. Hecate Night
Hecate Night is traditionally held on November 16th. This is the night she haunts the crossroads with her hounds. November 16th is also a night to initiate oneself or others under Hecate. The ancient Greeks loved to party. And what better reason to party than to celebrate and honor a beloved deity? Hecate was once a widely-worshiped goddess, with her main cults located on Eleusis and Samothrake Island. Elaborate feasts and festivals were thrown every year in her name. But when her followers weren’t in a temple, they were meeting her at the crossroads with a Special Hecate Supper.
One of the largest and most popular of the Greek pagan holidays is Dionysia. This is a day of revelry in honor of the Greek god of wine and ecstasy, Dionysus. This was obviously a holiday that honored the fertility and virility of men, as the procession was centered around parading images of penises through town. Following the penis procession, attendees carried baskets of bread, flowers, jars of water, wine, and other offerings. Modern Hellenic pagans celebrate Dionysia with wine tastings, parties, offerings to Dionysus and ecstatic trance rituals.
3. Aphrodisia: A Greek Pagan Holiday of Love
If the Greeks didn’t already celebrate love enough, they also celebrated it on the feast day of Aphrodite. If you don’t know who Aphrodite is yet, we’ll just tell you she’s the ultimate and one of the most popular goddesses of love and carnal lust. The exact dates aren’t known but we surmise it was celebrated between the third week of July to the third week of August. And it’s quite possible the celebration lasted a month. The kick-start to the party was the sacrifice of a dove, Aphrodite’s sacred bird. Fascinatingly, Aphrodite wasn’t just honored for her domain over romantic love, but also over self love, community, and even spiritual love. In modern times, celebrating Aphrodisia might be as simple as taking a long ritual bath, enjoying a sensual movie, and feeling the touch of a partner’s hand (or our own).
Egyptian Pagan Holidays
Yes, the Ancient Egyptians had their own divine pantheon which means they also had their own pagan holidays. Like the others, these holidays consisted of festivals that invoked and honored their beloved gods and goddesses. While we may not know as much on the Egyptian sabbats today, we do have an idea about some. There were at least 9 major Egyptian holy-days, with other cult deity festivals woven in. Here are a few:
1. Bastet Festival
This is one festival that I’d love to be a part of back in the day, and may have been in a past life…the festival of Bast (or Bastet). This gigantic party was thrown in Bubastis, the capital of Bast’s cult in Ancient Egypt. Bastet Triumphant probably began earlier than 450 BCE when it was recorded by Herodotus.
The Greek scholar says, “and some of the women have rattles and rattle with them, while some of the men play the flute during the whole time of the voyage, and the rest, both women and men, sing and clap their hands; and when as they sail they come opposite to any city on the way they bring the boat to land, and some of the women continue to do as I have said, others cry aloud and jeer at the women in that city, some dance, and some stand up and pull up their garments. This they do by every city along the river-bank; and when they come to Bubastis they hold festival celebrating great sacrifices, and more wine of grapes is consumed upon that festival than during the whole of the rest of the year.“
If you are a devotee of Bastet, throwing a party for the Bastet Triumphant is a great way to honor her. Drink wine, dance ecstatically, make love, explore your sexuality, and purr like a cat! The Bastet Triumphant was likely held in the late Summer, but I honestly couldn’t find a solid date upon research.
2. Wag and Thoth Festival
An Ancient Egyptian pagan holiday that combined worship of Osiris and Thoth. This festival was celebrated on the 18th day of the first month of the year, keeping in mind the ancient Egyptians’ calendar was much different from ours. The two gods Osiris and Thoth are linked by death customs and beliefs – Thoth takes part in the judgment of the dead by Osiris. I’m sure this festival consisted of offerings and may have looked a lot like the Wag Festival for Osiris in which people sailed paper boats on the Nile, towards the “land of the dead”. Learn more about Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing, here.
3. One of the Egyptian Pagan Holidays for the New Year: Wepet-Renpet Festival
It seems every culture throughout the history of man has celebrated the first of the new year. The Ancient Egyptians were no different. They called this pagan holiday the Wepet-Renpet Festival and you can bet there was a lot of eating and drinking. The Ancient Egyptians honored Osiris on this day, as well, as his journey to the underworld and rebirth symbolized the death and rebirth of the land. In addition to the debauchery, the people recited poems, sang songs, and danced in Osiris’ honor.