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What's in a Year?

thoughts on religious calendars

There are a number of different kinds of holydays and events marked on my religious calendar so that I can keep an eye on them. One is dates belonging to specific ancestors or Narnian saints' days. These dates are all relatively personal, though many of them are marked by other people on the internet in different ways.

Most of these dates are simply the birthdates of the ancestors being celebrated, whether they're my blood ancestors or whether I'm honoring Maurice Sendak on June 10th or Carrie Fisher on October 21st.

Carrie Fisher actually falls under two days on my calendar, the second in a different category that's more like Pop Culture Holidays. May the 4th, Star Wars day, is another day for honoring Carrie on my calendar, and I also mark the Glorious 25th of May for Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams.

The Narnian saint days are a bit different, in that they're nicked from Catholic saint days with the correct names, so we celebrate Queen Lucy on December 15th and Queen Susan on August 11th and so on.

And then on top of those dates are the holidays where I mark the passage of the seasons in the world around me, what I suppose I would call my Wheel of the Year in a pagan crowd. These are dates that often will- or at least should, in my opinion- vary between location and even from year to year. Not all of them will be celebrated by everyone, and not all in the same way.

For example, before we had kids, my first New Year was Samhain, the fresh start that comes in the welcoming darkness of the year, but now that our kid is in school, the first New Year is right after labor day, and it's a celebration of the re-establishment of routine and new things to learn. Samhain's New Year belongs to the Good Earth and the Deep Waters, as we go down into the darkness and leave behind the previous year and its sorrows and its challenges. In my house, this means roast pork with apples and supper with the dead, and then journeying forth in the dark to a liminal space to prepare for First New Year and preparing for the Hunt.

As I see Wodanaz in both the Hunt and the Carnival, the first carnival of the year is a moment like the first farmer’s market, where I am seeing a power shift from their winter self to their summer self and I stop to acknowledge the passage of time.

This is, of course, entirely UPG, but the role of carnivals in pop culture is liminal and dangerous, a place where the bad are punished and strange blessings and curses both might come up, so it seems reasonable to me that archetypal Carnival might feed on the same energies as the Hunt. And of course, I first met Wodanaz wearing the face of Mr Dark.


Some years I sit awake in vigil for the New Year, burning bonfires of creativity, armed with words and caffeine. I await the stroke of midnight so I can dive into new projects for the new year. So begins the month long festival called National Novel Writing Month.

I also celebrate two other New Years, the pop-cultural zeitgeist new year that follows the longest night, and the lunar New Year at the first hint of spring. The solar New Year on January 1st actually marks the end of Twelvenights, a long Yule; it starts as a more meditative festival on the solstice when I try to keep watch for dawn, then is a family holiday around the 25th since there's not really any way to avoid it, and then shifts gears to goal-setting and fresh-start energy that I like to take advantage of.

There are a few others that have snuck in out of habit, like Walpurgisnacht. I still think of the day as Walpurgis because that’s what I first learned it as, before I knew about the wheel of the year. (Hello again, Catholic upbringing, nice to see you.) I tend to consider it a complement to Samhain, a time when the veils are thin, the otherworlds are close, or whatever your description of choice might be. Magic is a little bit easier. Change comes a little bit faster.

I imagine several holydays as a pair, most notably Samhain and Walpurgis – for me, Samhain is about internal shifts, and Walpurgis about external shifts. Samhain is the new year, and is about clearing out old things about yourself, getting straight in your head. Walpurgis is the beginning of summer, making changes in relationships, friendships, how you interact with the world. Samhain is a holyday that belongs to Marzanna, Lady of the Earth, She Who Cradles The Body, and Walpurgis belongs to Mara, the Fruitful Earth, She Who Bears.

I also celebrate exceptionally local holydays like the opening weekend of the farmer's market, the first local berries, and the first autumn rainy day. There's something roughly analagous to Lammastide that I like to mark, a First Harvest, but that's harder to put my finger on. It's more a change in the air than anything else, but it's roughly August when you can say harvest season has begun, festival season has begun. My favorite way to celebrate first harvest is to go to the county fair.

The apex of Fair-as-First-Harvest, in my opinion, is the growing competition. Flowers, fruits and vegetables are harvested, gathered, tagged and judged. Some of them win ribbons. Someone is best in show. All of them are dead before the first judge sets eye on them.

I prefer to visit the fair on the first weekend if I can, because by the second weekend, inevitably time and Hel have taken their toll. Of course, this can assist you in a meditation on the death in the harvest, especially if you honor the sacrifice of the Lord of Plenty at this time of year. Hundreds of farmers – hundreds of thousands across the country – offer up their first and their finest to the judges and to Death. The rest of us look on and honor the sacrifice and appreciate the ritual.

Eventually, of course, it’s all harvested. But there’s a difference between rounding up all of your apples for the market and choosing the finest apple to enter into the county fair. It is the very best that is offered, and just as may happen at our own deaths, we are judged and found exemplary or wanting.

The thing about any religious calendar is that it has to make sense to you, the person celebrating it. Think about what you're celebrating, and why, and when it makes sense to appreciate those things.

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