Major Feasts

 

Advent

 

 

Advent marks the beginning of the Church’s new year and is celebrated in November on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and the Sunday before St Andrew’s Day. It is a time of preparation for Christmas in much the way Lent is for Easter. Advent traditions include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, praying an Advent daily devotional, setting up Christmas decorations and the ‘hanging of the greens’ ceremony.

 

Advent services now also include the relatively modern tradition of ‘Christingle’ which is a service dedicated to and for children. It includes using an orange to represent the world, a candle to represent Christ as the light of the world, a red ribbon to represent the blood of Christ, aluminium foil to represent the nails used to crucify Him and dried fruits to represent the fruits of the earth. Christingle services are also held over the Christmas period and sometimes during Epiphany. Whilst ASA is generally wary of modern innovations within the Church, it considers Christingle to be a positive innovation, especially one that celebrates, and is a celebration for, our children.

 

 

Geole or Yule (Festival of Midwinter)

 

Begins on the winter solstice, usually 21st of Ærra Geola (December) and lasts 12 nights to 1st Æfterra Geola (January). This is a season rather than a single day, but within it we especially celebrate:

 

Winter Solstice or St Lucy’s Day (usually 21st Ærra Geola)

 

 

This day marks the beginning of the 12 day Geole season and was the traditional Anglo Saxon New Year’s Day. It should be a day of great joy and happiness, marking the start of the promise that the light and warmth of the sun will return. This day used to be celebrated as St Lucy’s Day, marking the start of longer, lighter days; the name Lucy being cognate with the Latin word ‘lux’, meaning ‘light. It is still celebrated in this way in Scandinavia and some other countries, but has been moved to 13th Ærra Geola following the change of calendars. Veneration of St Lucy continued in England until the Puritan times.

 

Little is known of her actual life, except she was martyred around the year 304. St Lucy’s Day is still popular in Scandinavia where she is associated with the ‘coming of the light of Christ’. In particular, the day includes processions of people holding candles to represent the power of light over the darkness and anticipating the coming of Christ as the light of the world. We think this is an excellent Folk Christian tradition and so encourage its re-adoption back into the English Folk tradition.

 

Christmas Eve or Mōdraniht (24th Ærra Geola)

 

 

 

Christmas Eve is the day we anticipate Christmas day. It is usually marked by a fairly simple meal in the evening, carol singing and maybe by attending a Church service such as Midnight Mass. In England we do not exchange Christmas presents until Christmas day itself.

 

Bede tells us that the pagan Anglo Saxons celebrated this day as Mōdraniht (Night of the Mothers) in celebration of the female Goddesses and maybe of the Norns in particular. We see here a connection between celebration of Mary, the Mother of God, as she prepares to give birth and of the ‘Mothers’ of our people and our lands.

 

The reference to the Norns or Sisters of Wyrd is particularly interesting as there are three of them – roughly corresponding to the three ‘Fates’ of the Latin world. Although several different ‘Mary’s’ are referred to in the Gospels, they often appear in combinations of three – which is typical of Indo-European mythology. Examples include:

 

·         Three Marys at the tomb of Jesus on Easter Sunday;

·         Three Marys present at the crucifixion of Jesus;

·         Three Marys as daughters of Saint Anne.

 

It has been suggested, for instance by R. Pascal (‘The Modern Language Review, July 1941) that the ‘Three Marys’ may be Christianised versions of the Germanic Mothers. There is certainly a strong association that allows for a folk Christian interpretation along these lines.

 

Christmas Day (25th Ærra Geola)

 

 

This is the main day of our Geole season, the day we celebrate the birth of God into our world. Church services are held, focusing on this theme and with plenty of Carols sung. It is a time for the nuclear family to be together and keep warm and open the presents!

 

There is a view that ‘Santa Claus’ has developed over the years from a remembrance of Woden. There is certainly a similarity in the notion of Santa flying in his sleigh and Woden leading the wild hunt and of the tradition of gift bearing that both mark. We do believe that this is an interesting element of our Folk Christianity that deserves further study.

 

Boxing Day (26th Ærra Geola)

 

 

This is the traditional day for visiting the wider/extended family and is a sort of extension of Christmas day. The meaning of the word ‘boxing’ is shrouded in the mystery of time, but probably was when small parcels or boxes of money, treats and food were made available to poorer people. In later medieval times, it became more strongly associated with richer people giving such boxes to trades people or staff as a bonus for work well done over the year. Servants and other staff were allowed to visit their families (presumably with their box of goodies), hence the modern custom of visiting family.

 

Boxing day is also known for sports, especially horse racing, fox hunting and swimming in the freezing sea. In some areas, especially Cornwall, the day is also marked by Mummers plays, but this does not seem to have been a widespread custom in England generally.

 

Typical food can include leftovers from Christmas day and especially ham, such as boiled ham with potatoes and parsley sauce.

 

Today, Boxing day is especially associated with shopping and ‘sales’. This is part of our modern ‘consumer-led’ culture which EFC does not encourage or consider wholesome.

 

End of Geole (1st Æfterra Geola)

 

 

This is the last day of the 12 nights of Geole and coincides with the modern New Years day. We think it is right to celebrate the end of the Geole season, and fireworks and merry making are a fitting way to do this!

 

Epiphany Eve or Wassailing Day

 

 

Celebrated on the 5th of Æfterra Geola, this marks the eve of Epiphany and the visitation of the Three Wise Kings. At one time, Epiphany was more important than Christmas and whilst we don’t take it that far, EFC does place much more importance on this feast than most modern Churches do. Celebrations on Epiphany eve include candle lit processions, wassailing (either around people’s homes or in honour of trees) and general merry making. The association of wassailing trees gives us an opportunity to reflect on the symbolism of Yggdrasil, the great ‘tree of life’ in our Germanic mythology.

 

Epiphany or Three Kings Day

 


Usually held on the 6th of Æfterra Geola. This is a celebration of the visitation of the Three Wise Kings from the east, probably Persia, who followed a star in the sky to visit the child Jesus. These Wise Kings were Zoroastrian Magi (or Priestly nobles descended from Zoroaster himself). Zoroastrian priests had a reputation as experts in astrology and these Priests had seen signs in the stars that foretold the birth of God into our world. As such, the day is important to folk Christians because it marks to acceptance of Jesus as God incarnate by Priests of the foremost Aryan religion (Zoroastrianism) at that time.

 

Distaff Day

 

 

Held on the 7th of Æfterra Geola, the day after Epiphany, this is a celebration of women’s work and marked the return of women to work in the evening after one final holiday celebration. It sometimes coincided with the men’s holiday of Plough Monday and on this time they would celebrate together and often play tricks on each other.

 

A distaff is a stone or rock that is used to hold unwoven fibres, usually flax or wool, and prevented them from tangling in the spinning process. As such, it became a symbol of women’s work in medieval Europe. ‘Distaff’ also  became a common phrase to describe the female side of the family.

 

However, the significance of this date goes back deeper into our mythology. The word ‘Dis’ itself comes from the Indo European word ‘dhēi’, meaning Lady or Goddesss, literally meaning to suckle. The Disir, or Idisi, are female Goddesses, particularly those associated with battle and act as Tribal Protectors or Clan Guardians. The Goddess Frigg spins the web of Wyrd from her bejewelled distaff providing an association between the Disir, the Distaff and the Three Norns or Sisters of Wyrd. 

 

And so on this is a complex holiday and one that we should give great weight to. It has clearly changed since the conversion period from an honouring of the female Goddesses to a sort of ‘fun holiday’ for honouring the work of women. Our task here should be to reclaim the deeper meaning of this day whilst retaining the Folk Christian tradition that it has become. As this day has become something of a ‘women’s’ day, celebrated mainly by women, it would seem sensible that any development of it to include the Disir is also mainly a female orientated celebration – except perhaps when the day coincides with ‘Plough Monday’.

 

Plough Monday

 

 

This is held on the First Monday after Epiphany and marks the traditional start of the agricultural year in England and the resumption of work after the Geole holiday. In many parts of the country in the Middle Ages, a decorated plough would be hauled around the villages collecting money – often with music, an old woman or boy dressed as an old woman called the ‘Bessy’ and with entertainment by a ‘fool’. A boiled suet pudding of meat and onions, called ‘Plough Pudding’ and originating from Norfolk, was eaten on this day.

 

An old tradition associated with Plough Monday, which is slowly being restored after having completely died out, is that of ‘Molly Dancing.’ Originally, it would have been undertaken by plough-hands in the idle season between the end of geole and the start of ploughing the fields in early spring. Men would go from house to house, especially of wealthier people, and offer to dance in return for a small sum of money. If they were refused, the home owner was likely to find a great plough furrow through his front lawn the next day – an early version of trick or Treat! The men disguised themselves, sometimes by dressing up as women and sometimes by blackening their faces. My feeling though is that everyone knew what was expected of the ‘tradition’ and front lawns, in the main, remained un-ploughed!   

 

Candlemas or Ewemeolc

 

 

This is celebrated on the 2nd of Solmonað (February). Candlemas is a fairly thinly disguised continuation of ‘acceptable’ elements of the pre-Christian Ewemeolc which is broadly the same as the Celtic celebration of Imbolc. Ewemeolc literally means ‘Ewe’s Milk’ and celebrated the start of the lambing season. It is a ‘Cross Quarter’ day marking the start of the decline of winter and the first signs of the coming spring with the spouting of leaves and flowers such as snowdrops and crocuses. Special feasts were held, candles and bonfires lit to mark the decline of winter, holy wells were visited and it was also a time for divination and it may have been this that resulted in it being banned by the Judeao-Christian Church. The EFC does not encourage divination as we consider it a fraud or worse.

 

The ‘Presentation of Christ’ is not a major part of EFC custom. It is described in the Gospels and was a part of the Jewish ritual ‘purification’ process and so not that important to the Angelcyn or for that matter of much significance to the incarnation of God into our world. Of more importance are the words of the Prophet Simeon the Righteous, who declared the infant Jesus to be the light that would illumine the nations.  This image of Christ as the light of the world has come to be celebrated in the west by the lighting of candles – hence the term Candlemas. 

 

The association of Solmonað (soil or mud month) with cakes is attested by Bede, but is also a known feature of Saxon soil fertility rites and also alluded to in the Anglo Saxon Charms.  Some people believe that ‘sol’ means sun and that the cakes offered at this time were known as sun cakes – perhaps in anticipation of the growing power of the sun and on set of spring and the new farming year.  In any event, Solmonað is clearly a celebration of the growing power of the sun and an anticipation of the coming spring.  This presents us with a powerful and plausible synergy with the celebration of Candlemas as Christ the light of the world and also Christ the new life. 

 

This is one of the days that the Acer Bot, one of the few ceremonies from pre-Christian times that we have written records of, was performed. It was an elaborate ritual to bless the fields and purify them before the first tilling of the soil. Sometimes it was used on land that had become unproductive for whatever reason. The ceremony itself would have been preceded by a torch lit procession around the bounds of the farm at which clumps of soil from the four corners of the farm would be collected. This is a very ancient Germanic custom which symbolised the reclaiming of the land and which still exists today in the ceremony of beating the bounds of the parish. 

 

The next day, before sunset, the collected soil would have been mixed with milk, honey and candle wax and replaced back into the earth. On the following dawn, the plough would be blessed and used to dig its first furrow, into which was buried the first seed and a cake, probably after another procession through the village.  

 

Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day)

 

 

 

This is a movable feast determined by the date for Easter.  To ‘shrive’ comes from the Old English word Scrifan which means to confess. EFC encourages people to consider their shortcomings and wrong doings and how they might overcome these in the following year. It does not advocate a priestly confessional system, except where somebody specifically seeks guidance from a Priest of an Elder. And so this is a period of personal reflection that could continue through the Lent period.

 

Pancakes were eaten on this day to use up rich foodstuffs such as eggs, milk and butter. English pancakes are thin and typically eaten rolled-up with treacle, orange or lemon juice with sugar.

 

Reflection Wednesday and Lent

 

 

This follows Shrove Tuesday and so is also movable. Commonly called ‘Ash Wednesday’ in many Church denominations, the EFC does not observe the marking of our bodies with ash as a sign of repentance. This is a middle eastern custom which we do not include within our practice of English Folk Christianity. Furthermore, we do not consider that it really achieves anything apart from people being able to say ‘look at my piety’ without actually having to address anything. For similar reasons, the EFC observes Lent as a relatively minor season of reflection and preparation rather than overt fasting and self-denial. In fact, as the word Lent is derived from the Anglo Saxon word Lenten which means ‘Spring’, literally the lengthening of days, we believe the focus should be on reflection and improvement rather than giving things up for the sake of it. 

 

Our focus for reflection is on Shrove Tuesday and Reflection Wednesday. We believe that these are important days for private reflection. You do not need to attend a formal Church service for this. But where these are held, an appropriate period of quiet, with lights dimmed, should be held for us to reflect on these things.

 

Reflection Wednesday can include a ritualised meal based on the Symbel. This can be a simple family meal, a larger clan meal or a Church meal. During this meal there will be a time for people to express sorrow for misdeeds or bad behaviour over the year and/or set out how they will make amends or change. Nobody need make such proclamations, but the opportunity is there should they wish. However, this is also a good time for the wider family or Clan to raise issues with individuals for them to reflect on. Nothing should come as a surprise, and it is important that it is done in a positive way. This may simply be a child’s parents suggesting how a child may address unruly behaviour – or it may be more serious matters. More thought needs to be given to this as it can obviously be very sensitive. But it does seem to offer a more genuine ‘Saxon’ approach to these matters than simply slapping some ash on your forehead!

 

Spring Solstice

 

 

Usually celebrated on 21st Hredmonað (March), this day marks the Vernal Equinox and celebrates fertility as the earth around us comes back to life. On this day, we reflect on the fertility Gods and Goddesses, on our Mother Earth and on the Goddess HreÞa in particular. In some ways, it makes sense to celebrate ‘Lady Day’, the day Mary became pregnant with the Christ child, on this day and it would be acceptable to do so. However, there is also a case to keep the two traditions separate and to celebrate lady day on its traditional date of 25th Hredmonað. Some cross-over of celebration is inevitable though.

 

Easter

 

Holy Week

 

Holy Week marks the lead up to the death and resurrection of Christ. In some ways it is a strange celebration as we have already started to celebrate the return of the sun and warmth and now return to the death of God. But, on the other hand, it allows us a chance for focussed meditation on the whole ‘dying/rising’ God cycle of birth, death and rebirth as well on the specific events that led to the crucifixion prior to the celebration of Easter and the formal beginning of the ‘light’ season. Although Easter celebrations fous on the three days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the ere are other celebrations for the week leading up to these.

 

Holy Monday reflects on the temple Priests who questioned Jesus’ authority and his ‘Cleansing of the Temple’ by expelling the money changers.  

 

 

Holy Tuesday foretells the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot during the ‘Last Supper’.

 

Holy Wednesday reflects on the anointing of Jesus with expensive oils and the plot by Judas to betray Him and to deliver Him to the Jewish authorities. A Chrism service may be celebrated on this day in which holy oils are blessed for treating the sick. A ‘Tenebrae’ service may also be held, which is a series of readings and responses as the candles in Church are gradually extinguished in preparation for the darkness of Christ’s death.

 

 

Maundy Thursday commemorates the last Supper of Christ and may be celebrated with a Eucharist service after which the Church bells are rung. The origin of the term ‘Maundy’ is probably derived from the Maundy baskets, or purses, of money that the king of England distributed to the poor on this day. This custom is still practiced by the monarch.

 

 

Good Friday is a movable feast determined by Easter. On this day we commemorate the passion and crucifixion of Christ. However, we do not celebrate a weak Christ, meekly succumbing to His death. We reflect the Crucifixion as told in the Anglo Saxon poem ‘Dream of the Rood’ which tells of a strong Christ meeting His fate head-on.

 

It is a day of fasting, although Hot Cross buns are eaten and traditionally the main meal of the day is fish. We would like to develop a series of readings that tell the story of the passion. These could be either read out in Church as part of a formal service (including Stations of Cross if desired by a particular congregation) or read out as part of family gatherings or meals or simply read quietly by an individual as a personal meditation.

 

English Folk Church celebrates Christ as a Germanic warrior who boldly steps up to the cross to meet his fate as portrayed in the poem ‘Dream of the Rood’.

 

 

 

Holy Saturday commemorates the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb and the ‘Harrowing of Hell’. There is no formal liturgy for the day, but readings can be said, or quietly read, commemorating the burial of Jesus. As a general rule, we do not observe the Easter Vigil. Instead, Churches should be closed and shrouded in darkness. Any personal or family shrines should also be covered and no candles burnt. The aim of this is to reflect the darkness of the closed tomb. 

 

The Easter Vigil begins begins at sunset on Holy Saturday and lasts until sunrise on Easter Sunday. An Easter fire is kindled outside the Church and the Paschal candle is blessed and then lit. This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the church or near the lectern, and throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, reminding all that Christ is "light and life".

 

Once the candle has been lit, it is carried by a deacon through the nave of the church, itself in complete darkness, stopping three times to chant the acclamation 'Light of Christ', to which the assembly responds 'Thanks be to God'. As the candle proceeds through the church, the small candles held by those present are gradually lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic "Light of Christ" spreads, darkness is decreased.

 

Easter Sunday

 

                                           

Easter Sunday marks the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of eternal life of all those who follow Him. It is a truly joyous time and now we look forward to summer. In the three days of the ‘Easter Season’ we celebrate the classic ‘dying god’ reborn of many pre-Christian myths. As such, we meditate on the similarity between our pre-Christian and Christian stories of re-birth and resurrection and honour our Guardian ‘Eostre’.

Although not common these days, hard boiled eggs are still decorated (usually on Holy Saturday) and exchanged on Easter Sunday. Rolling these eggs down steep slopes as a race remains popular in many parts of rural England. More common is the hunt for chocolate Easter eggs. Other foods of this period include ‘Simnel Cake’ and Easter biscuits. We are also very keen to encourage the resurgence of traditional Easter ‘Pace’ plays.

England Day (Feast of Hengist and Horsa)

 

 

The 23rd of Eosturmonað (April) is commonly St George’s Day. However, not only was St George not English, he may well have never existed! But we still observe this day as a celebration of the arrival of the English into these lands and the beginnings of England. We know that English speaking people probably lived in these islands long before the times of Hengist and Horsa and even that Eastern England has always been part of a Germanic culture. That is good news for the English. But we need a day to celebrate our beginnings and the arrival of Hengist and Horsa is the strongest symbol of this we have. The White Horse Stone in Kent remains the symbolic beginning of England.

 

Walpurgis Night

 

 

This is celebrated on the 30th of Eosturmonað. St Walpurga was an Anglo Saxon princess, related to St Boniface, who has come to be associated with the older customs of the first day of spring or May day. Walpurgis Night is the eve of May Day and the start of celebrations marking the final arrival of Summer. Traditionally, bonfires and candles are lit and merry making and dancing take place to ward off evil spirits. Fires would be the traditional ‘Nyd-Fyr’ symbolised by the n Rune and would be seen as part of a cleansing ritual for the new year in which cattle were driven between two fires down to the summer pastures.

Walpurgis Night is particularly associated with the ‘Wild Hunt’, led by either Woden or a Valkyrie. This is a complex legend with several versions and meanings. Jacob Grimm believed it was a time when the Gods and Goddesses visited the lands, usually during a holy festival, bringing welfare and blessings and accepting gifts from the people in return. During the Christian era, these legends became darker and the Gods and Goddesses were transformed into evil spirits collecting souls and precipitating warfare. The EFC seeks to restore this legend to something closer to its original. We will focus on this as a time when our tribal Guardians visit us and our lands and offer us blessings in return for gifts and honour. In other words, we will look at these two days not just as the onset of spring, but as a time of renewing bonds between our folk, our folk gods and Goddesses and our Odal lands. Certainly, the on-set of Spring would seem a good time to celebrate the benevolent side to the Wild Hunt. Later in the year, as winter approaches, may be a good time to focus on its darker side.

 

 

Walpurgis Day or May Day

 

 

Held on the 1st Þrimilchi (May), and known as Beltane in the Celtic tradition, this is the continuation of Walpurgis Night to celebrate the arrival summer.  ‘Bel’ or Bael’ is the northern Sun God, known to Germanic and Norse people as Baldur. Bonfires and candles should be kept lit, special foods eaten and ‘May bushes’ decorated. It was also the custom until relatively recently to leave small amounts of food for the Elves and Spirits near such bushes, probably a continuation of the older tradition of leaving gifts for the Gods and Goddesses of the Wild Hunt. Holy wells may be visited and votive offerings left for general health and well being and for a good summer.

 

In England we still have the procession of the May Queen, a remembrance of the procession of the Goddess Nerthus. Maypole dancing is also still practiced throughout the land.

 

 

Ascension Day

 

 

This is a movable feast taking place on the Thursday, forty days after Easter, although it can be moved to the following Sunday. On this day we celebrate the ascension of Christ into heaven. The EFC teaches that the resurrected Christ did indeed return to heaven, though the story of the physical ascension may be more myth and metaphor than a precise, historical event. We also teach this as a metaphor for our own ascension into heaven upon earthly death and for the transforming of our nature it embodies. An ascended man and woman is a higher form of being to our human nature.

 

In England, it was common to ‘beat the bounds’ on this day and some parishes continue this tradition.

 

Whitsunday (Pentecost)

 

 

This feast is celebrated fifty days after Easter Sunday, hence its Greek name of Pentecost which is derived from their word for fifty. It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire amongst the Apostles. The Apostles began to speak in tongues, so that every man who heard them could understand what they were saying, irrespective of what language he spoke. In Europe, Churches are often decorated with tree branches, usually birch. Sometimes, large cut outs of doves are also placed in churches to signify the Holy Spirit.

 

In parts of England, there are Whit walks with brass bands and with girls dressed in white. Morris dancing and cheese rolling are also still practiced. The origin of the term ‘whit’ is uncertain. Some believe it is a reference to the white clothes worn by people baptised in the period from Easter Sunday.

 

Others think it is a reference to ‘whit’ or wisdom, to Holy Sophia which is the Greek word for Wisdom with which the holy spirit is often associated. We consider this to be the most important aspect of the feast; the holy spirit bestowing wisdom and knowledge that we may continue to learn and understand following the departure of Christ from our world. We may therefore also consider the Guardian Woden on this day; his association with wisdom and with the pursuit of the wisdom held in the holy Runes. For these reasons, we use the old English term ‘Whitsunday’ rather than Pentecost.    

 

Midsummer (Liþa)

 

 

This usually falls on the 21st of Ærra Liþa (June) as the summer solstice. It is a celebration of Midsummer and of life and is one of the traditional Quarter days. Although transferred to the Eve of St John the Baptist’s Day, it was traditionally marked in England with bonfires, feasting and merry making. St John’s Day can be observed, as a minor festival, on the 24th, but this is restricted to the life of the Saint and the theme of baptism rather than to the folkish celebrations which are held on the solstice. It is considered that there is not really enough ‘synergy’ between the two festivals to retain them as a single event and that Liþa should be restored as a proper festival in its own right.

 

St Joseph of Arimathea (Festival of the Holy Grael)

 

 

EFC holds to the legends that Joseph of Arimathea visited south western Britain on business as a tin merchant and on at least one occasion brought his nephew, the young Jesus, with him. Jesus spent time with the druids, being teaching them and being taught by them. Following his death on the cross, the holy family fled the middle east and settled in this part of Britain that Joseph already knew. At this time, Britain was independent and not under the control of the Romans. The legend of the Holy Grael is one that has gripped the English for centuries, despite pre-dating the establishment of England in Britain. It represents a very important part of our mystical and religious traditions.

 

Although held on 1st August in the Anglican tradition, the EFC celebrates this day on the 31st of Æfterra Liþa (July) in common with the Eastern Orthodox and some protestant denominations. This is mainly because we do not wish it to clash with the important folk festival of Lammas Day. We would also like to develop a greater symbiosis between these two days to create something of a two-day festival.

 

Lammas Day

 

 

Celebrated on the 1st of Weodmonað (August), Lammas Day, or Loaf Mass, is the festival of the first wheat harvest of the year.  On this day, it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop and in many parts of England tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords.  In Anglo Saxon times, it was also called the ‘feast of the first fruits’ and the new harvest would be blessed.  In medieval times the feast was known as the "Gule of August".  The meaning of Gule is no longer known for certain.  It could either mean the Yule of August, which was spelt ‘Geole’ in Anglo Saxon English, or be an Anglicisation of the Welsh words for the 1st of August gŵyl aust, literally meaning the ‘feast of August’. 

 

Some writers have associated Lammas with the Celtic pagan festival of Lughnasadh, named after the god Lugh who is also reputed to have given his name to London.  The festival is celebrated with bonfires and merry making, overseen by a period of peace – reflecting the similar practice over Yuletide.  In Ireland it was traditionally the time for handfastings which were trial marriages lasting for a year and a day after which the couple would decide whether to formalise the marriage or part company. 

 

Michaelmas – feast of the Harvest Home

 

 

Celebrated on the 29th of Haligmonað (September), Michaelmas is the feast of St Michael the Archangel.  It corresponds roughly to the autumn equinox which marks the shortening of days and the beginning of autumn. It was traditionally celebrated in England as the end of the harvest cycle and was associated with much feasting. With the crops safely gathered, Michaelmas marked the time for landowners to stock barns and sheds full of food, ready for the winter ahead.  Meats and fishes were salted, to be eaten during the cold months ahead and a new accounting and farming year officially began. Michaelmas also marked an end of many activities which could only be carried out during the summer months, such as fishing and fruit picking.  On the day after the feast, farm labourers and domestic servants presented themselves at a ‘mop fair’, where they could be hired for work in the coming farming year. Many villages celebrated Michaelmas with a harvest feast, which offered all the best of what had been gathered and anticipated good times to come, with cupboards full for the coming months.

 

Michaelmas marked the end of the agricultural year and was the time that farmers paid off their debts – often presenting their landlords with a goose. Goose fairs were common and some still take place. In common with the theme, the  traditional meal for the day includes a harvest goose or ‘stubble-goose’ and a special kind of oatcake called a St Michael's bannock. Eating goose on Michaelmas day is said to bring financial good luck for the coming year.

 

Whilst Michaelmas is now observed on the 29th September, it used to be on 10th October under the old Calendar. This is still sometimes referred to as ‘Old Michaelmas’ or ‘Devil’s Spit Day’. This is because of an old legend that the devil was kicked out of heaven on 11th October and landed on a bramble (blackberry) bush. Each year, it is said that he takes his revenge by spoiling brambles after this date. Some say he spits on them, others that he pees on them! Either way, it is attested that brambles do not taste as good after the 11th and so you should eat as many of them as you can on Michaelmas day! This would be September 30th in our modern calendar. Michaelmas dumplings are a traditional pudding for this day and consist of suet dumplings with chopped apple inside them, simmered on a bed of sweet brables and served with cream to symbolise the devil’s spit! 

 

Michaelmas day was traditionally a day of reckoning, as quarter days marked the times when rent was collected.  It also marks the beginning of the legal and school year. 

 

St Michael is the warrior Archangel and is honoured as the protector of the individual against evil forces.  He is also honoured as a healer.  A winter curfew came into operation in many communities from Michaelmas Day and the church bell was sounded early in the evening from Michaelmas onwards, for the town gates to be closed to incomers until morning.  Michaelmas is also sometimes also known as the "festival of strong will".  This reflects the association of St Michael in many Germanic countries, including England, with Woden or Odin and sometimes also with Thor.  Churches dedicated to St Michael, especially in Germany, are often found on hills and other high places which would originally have been sacred places dedicated to Woden.  An ancient practice, from well before the Christian era, is the corn dolly.  This was made from the last sheaf of wheat of the harvest and was woven into a human shape, to take the place of honour on the harvest feast table.  It was believed to bring good fortune for the new farming year.  The dolly is likely to represent mother earth, or Eartha, who in mythology would be fertilised each year by Sky Father to bring forth the new crops of the new season.  In time, she became associated with the Holy Mother of God who brought forth the incarnation of God himself into our world.

 

Michaelmas used to be a major feast in England but is hardly noticed by most people today. And yet it is a hugely important folk festival, our traditional harvest festival and the English equivalent of American Thanksgiving. There are some signs that it is regaining some of its popularity and this is to be encouraged.

 

Feast of the Guardians

 

 

Celebrated on the 2nd of Winterfylleþ (October), this day celebrates our personal and tribal Guardians, the folk gods and goddesses of our pre-Christian ancestors. They are not Angels as such, being a part of the divine energy and more like the ‘Devas’ of Hinduism, or the ‘Assuras’ of the ancient Vedic religion. They are an extremely important part of our folk faith, probably the single biggest difference between us and Judeao-Christianity. It was these Angels who spoke to our folk in pre-Christian times and they continue to do so.

 

We acknowledge that not all of these beings are benevolent, for instance the Deorc Elfs, but for the most part they are. We also consider that their (literal) demonization by the Church was not only wrong but has led to a warped view of Christianity taking hold amongst our folk. 

 

St Alfred the Great

 

 

Celebrated on 26th of Winterfylleþ, we consider Alfred to be not just a Saint but also our greatest king and protector of our land and people. He paved the way for the Anglo Saxon tribes to come together to form England. He was a great champion of learning and the rule of law.

 

Feast of the Eve of All Hallows or Hallowmas (Halloween)

 

 

31st of Winterfylleþ marks the beginning of the three day period of Hallowtide. All Hallow’s Eve itself is a day of preparation for the two principal feasts that follow it. It is a celebration of family, both living and dead and a time to light candles to invite ancestral spirits into our homes but also to guide them back to the spirit world. It is also a time for a bit of fun, carving out Jack’o’Lanterns from Swedes or Pumpkins, dressing up in ghoulish outfits, trick or treating and playing party games.

 

All Saints Day

 

 

Celebrated on 1st of Blodmonað (November), this is a day of more sober reflection following the merriment of All Hallows Eve. It is a celebration of our Saints and Martyrs, collectively known as the ‘Communion of Saints’. On this day, we should remember the holy people of our folk and of what is needed to become a Saint. EFC teaches that the Saints are everyone who has become perfected in the body of God. We should also remember our martyrs and heroes who have died for our folk and our faith. 

 

All Souls Day

 

 

All Saints is followed on the 2nd of Blodmonað, by the Feast of All Souls, which celebrates Faithful Departed. These are all those souls who have not yet been purified and perfected in heaven. It relates more to ones own departed family and ancestors but can also celebrate the dear departed of our folk as a whole. On this day, we remember them and pray for them to help them on their journey to become Saints. It also used to be customary to visit graves on this day and to hold special meals in which the departed are remembered and commemorated. A traditional biscuit eaten on this day is the ‘soul cake’, a type of short cake. I remember these at school. They were eaten with prunes and custard and we called them ‘grave stones.’

 

Remembrance Day

 

 

Observed on the 11th of Blodmonað, we remember and honour those who have died and been injured in wars protecting our freedom and independence down the years. It is a strange coincidence that, and for different reasons, the Anglo Saxon term for November means ‘blood month’ or even ‘sacrifice month’.

 

Christ the All Ruler

 

 

This is held on the last Sunday before advent and better known as Christ the King. In Greek Orthodox Churches, He is known as Christos Pantokrator, meaning Ruler of All. 

 

On this day, we focus on Christ as the Ruler of the World, the Cosmic Christ who transcends all matter. This is the resurrected and ascended Christ, the Word of God who spoke to our pre-Christian ancestors and continues to speak to us now. He is the Christ that remains with us to this day and with whom we have a personal and collective relationship. We are reminded that Christ is strong, not weak, and that our faith is in compassionate strength. Christ the All Ruler is the ultimate Knight.

 

go back to Feasts & Festivals