While television and movie witches are bathed in special effects, real life is much different. Seasonal gatherings and community celebrations mark events connected to fertile crops, fertile stock animals, fertile humans and human survival. Since most witches no longer live in farming communities, and we have enough people on earth, the focus has shifted to fertile minds, instead of fertile bodies. These celebrations now reflect our mental and emotional progress from one season to another, with our capacity to learn and understand being paramount.
If you know any witches, you may hear them mention the wheel of the year. It is a simplified circular calendar , read counter clockwise, illustrating the major and minor holidays. Celtic versions of the wheel are most common, but each tradition may have its own version featuring holiday names and dates specific to each. Since these holidays reflect planting, harvesting and fallow, witches can also use The Farmers’ Almanac to schedule holiday celebrations.
As every coven and community is different, their celebrations may feature different highlights, but most celebrations consist of a meal, with participants contributing a dish, followed by the appropriate ritual. Rituals can present concepts as metaphor and/or act out myths that are handed down or reconstructed. You may have witnessed rituals without knowing it. There are places where people, who are not witches, still dance the Maypole around May first. The participants dance, unaware that they are performing part of a Beltaine fertility ritual.
I enjoy fictional witches, but I try to remember that there are real people reconstructing and practicing many of these “old ways”. With Christmas approaching, I grew curious about the winter holidays celebrated by modern witches and Wiccan. Their holidays are based on the seasons, not famous people or infamous events.
Yule is the most popular winter holiday, and its festivities are often combined with winter solstice revelry. Some groups meet for potluck feasts where coven members exchange handmade gifts, give handmade ritual tools, or give fellow practitioner a prized book from the giver’s own bookshelves. Beverages can include home-brewed mead and traditional or non-alcoholic Wassail. A formal ritual often follows, at midnight. While the preferred ritual setting is outdoors, cold weather means casting the circle inside, where the chances for frostbite are much lower.
Apparently Wicca, like Christianity, is divided into different sects or traditions. Someone following a Celtic tradition will have different ritual tools and practices from someone following a Norse tradition. Each pantheon has different names for their gods and goddesses, with each deity having his or her own characteristics and skills, but the seasonal celebrations are common to all.
I find the exchange of hand-made gifts or used books particularly attractive, even though giving books might not be a universal option. It is probably less expensive, in both time and money, than picking through big box stores. To find more information on Wiccan holidays, read The Pagan Book of Days: A Guide to the Festivals, Traditions, and Sacred Days of the Year