The expansion of the ritual year has always been controversial within
the Celtic Reconstructionist movement with most people publicly settling
on only celebrating the four documented festivals of the ancient
Pre-Christian people. However, with the advent of the internet it has
become clear that many more folk from the CR community have quietly
expanded the ritual year to include other festivals. In the Gentlidecht Holiday Cycle I gave several examples of how the ritual year can be expanded to include many days to celebrate various heroes and gods throughout the year. In this segment I am going to focus on some ideas for a winter festival that are not based wholly on what the Irish are known to have done, but are events based on events in Ireland, American cultural activities, or the weather in my region.
The first option for a winter festival is to make offerings to the Cailleach, assuming you did not do so at Samhain. In Scotland, March 25th is a traditional day on which offerings are made to the Cailleach as this is when winter has truly lost its grip and by Bealtaine she is subdued. Here in the Midatlantic region of the United States winter does not usually begin in earnest until late December and only lasts through early March. By March 25th the Winter is usually well past and the early spring plants are already visible in the gardens.
If offering to the Cailleach is not to your liking, you already made her offerings at Samhain, or you want to stick with tradition then we can look to Ireland for an event that speaks to a possible festival at Winter Solstice, the shining of the sun into the roof box of New Grange. While New Grange predates the coming of the Celtic speaking people to Ireland, it does not pre-date the Irish who, as recent genetic research has shown, have been on the island since at least 2000 BCE with the arrival of the “Beaker People.” While we do not know the religious beliefs or the gods of these pre-Celtic Irish people, we do know that when the Celts arrived they continued to view New Grange as a sacred site, the home of Aengus Og. A festival for Aengus Og this time of year would be to bring joy to the darkness of winter. Being a god associated with youth and lovethis should be a rather fun event.
A third option is to take the secular activities that go on during the Christmas season (that is the most common term for it) and expand them into one that meets your religious needs. As an example my group uses this time of year to celebrate our patrons. This is reflective of the attitude that this time of year is focused on family and gifts so holding a ritual to give and receive gifts from your patron is perfectly appropriate for our culture.
So here are three ideas for you to consider for a festival at the winter solstice. You could make offerings to the Cailleach in the hopes that she blesses you with a mild winter. You could also hold a festival for Aengus Og to bring some light to the darker months. Finally you could celebrate the family. While none are traditional, what is new can eventually become tradition.
Note – There are many who make offerings to the Cailleach at Samhain which is also appropriate.