Sunday, February 9, 2014

Cross-Quarter Days

This post is the second in two posts about Quarter Days and Cross-Quarter Days. The first post, Quarter Days, is here.

Just as the Quarter Days mark the beginning of the seasons in England, 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 (second) 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, halfway between spring and summer, was a day of feasting and joy as the crops sown soon after Lady Day in March 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 courting to see if they would suit. June weddings came about as impatient couples pushed up the happy day.

On August 1 is Lammas, the first festival of the harvest. The Celtic name is Lughnasaid, the day of the wedding of Lugh, the Celtic sun god, 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 made from the year's grain 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.

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

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

Thank you all,
Picture from Wikipedia


Evelyn Tidman said...

Isn't it interesting that so many 'holy days' had their roots in paganism? You can add Christmas and Easter to the list of pagan celebrations. It didn't, and still doesn't, occur to people that while they claim to be Christians they celebrate pagan festivals and gods.

Linda Banche said...

True, Evelyn. As with so many things, we think these holidays always were exactly what they are now.