Monday, October 24, 2011

Cross-Quarter Days

Just as the Quarter Days mark the beginning of the seasons in England (see previous post), the Cross-Quarter Days mark the midpoints of the seasons.

The four cross-quarter days are:

Candlemas (Imbolc) February 1
May Day (Beltane)1 May
Lammas (Lughnasaid )August 1
All Hallows (1 November) or Samhain (October 31)

Notice the two names. The first names are the Christian names, which in time were layered over the older Celtic names.

The Church gave Candlemas its name for the candles lit in the churches to commemorate the presentation of the Christ Child at the temple in Jerusalem. The Celtic name of Imbolc (lamb's milk) arose because the date was the beginning of the lambing season. Another name was Brigantia, for the Celtic goddess of light, as daylight increased at this midpoint between the winter solstice and spring.

May Day, half way between spring and summer, was a day of feasting and joy as the crops sown soon after Lady Day began to sprout. In this season of new life advancing, May Day became the traditional date for young men and women to pair up. They would marry at the next cross-quarter day, after three months of seeing if they would suit. June weddings came about as impatient couples pushed up the wedding day.

Next, on August 1 is Lammas, the first festival of the harvest. The Celtic name is Lughnasaid, the day of the wedding of the Celtic sun god, Lugh, and the earth goddess, whose marriage caused the grain to ripen. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which dates from the ninth century, calls it "the feast of first fruits". The name "Lammas" may derive from the shortening of Lughnasaid or the term "Loaf-Mass", for on this day, the first loaves from the year's crop were brought to the church for blessings. Also, on or before this day, English landlords required their tenants to present them with the freshly harvested wheat.

And last is All Hallows Day and the evening before, Samhain. By All Hallows Day, the harvest is in and the year turns to the depths of winter. Samhain, the day before, was the death night of the old Celtic year. Its associattion with death and dying led to its transformation into our modern Halloween.

As so the year turns, from Quarter Day to Cross-Quarter Day and back again, in the never ending cycle of time.

Thank you all,


Unknown said...

Fascinating! The old names sure give it more of an earthy feel to me.

Thanks for posting!

Linda Banche said...

Thanks, Sophia. I think it's fascinating how newer customs/names layer themselves over the older.