RESOURCES FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE:

CELTIC CALENDARS  

(For older children)

 

By Eva Gordon, FoDLA Youth Religious Education Coordinator

                                   

 

Can you guess the answer to this old Scottish Highland riddle?

 

Four came over without boat or ship:

One was yellow and white,

One was brown, with plenty of twigs,

One to handle the flail,

And one to strip the trees.

[adapted from John Gregorson Campbell’s Gaelic Otherworld, ed. Ronald Black, Birlinn, Ltd, Edinburgh, 2005, p. 527]

 

Answer:  the four seasons. Here they are with their Gaelic names:

 

Spring, Earrach (AIR-ruck); the forward time

Summer, Samhradh (SOW-ra); the sun time

Fall, Foghar (FO-wur); the gracious time, or harvest

Winter, Geamhradh (GYOW-ra); the stiff, icy time.

 

For people living in ancient times, keeping up with the seasons was of great importance. They had to know the right times to plant and harvest crops, or send cattle and other animals out to the pastures.   Having special celebrations in the different seasons not only kept people on “schedule” for farming, herding and other work. The holidays also brought people together as a community and allowed time for fun and for spiritual observance.

 

The main traditional Celtic holidays, or “fire festivals” are on quarter-days midway between the solstices and equinoxes:

Samhain: end of summer, festval of ancestors)

 Imbolc: feast of the goddess Brighid, earliest spring)

 Beltane: May-day, first of summer

 Lughnasadh: grain harvest, assembly of the god Lúgh and his foster-mother, Tailtiu

 

Many Gaelic folk traditions in Ireland and Scotland are tied to the times of changing of the seasons, or beginning and end of the harvest time. These times were seen as “open,” or dangerous times when all could be lost. A farmer would walk the boundaries of his fields with a torch, to ward off wolves or crows that could harm livestock or crops. At Lúghnasadh, there would be a race to finish reaping the barley, and to avoid being the one to reap the last sheaf. Whoever ended up with the last sheaf or the Cailleach (KALL-yukh, meaning “old woman”) would have a poor year ahead. But, the Cailleach would also be kept safe over the winter and its seeds would be mixed into the seed to be planted in the spring of the next year.

           

Celtic peoples have traditionally divided the year into its light and dark halves, Summer and Winter, with the New Year beginning at the start of the dark half. (This is the holiday of Samhain, now celebrated on October 31/November1.)  In the same way, the evening has been thought of as the beginning of the day. 

 

We only have fragments of one actual ancient Celtic calendar. This is the famous bronze Coligny Calendar, discovered in France, near the town of Bourg-en-Bresse. It was probably made by Gaulish druids at the turn of the first century, CE, at the time that the Romans were spreading their own type of calendar across Europe. The Coligny calendar seems to show “3 Nights of Samhain.” It divides the year into months that follow the cycles of the moon, but adjusts to the cycle of the sun by putting in extra months every 2-1/2 years, like our leap years.

Interestingly, this calendar shows alternating “Matos” & “An-matos” months and days, signifying lucky and unlucky times.

 

For more information about this interesting calendar, and to see pictures of it, see these websites:

http://maryjones.us/jce/coligny.html

http://www.roman-britain.org/coligny.htm

http://pagancentral.com/cgi-bin/ColignyOnline.exe (The authors have tried to make the Coligny calendar correspond to today’s calendar, showing what today’s date would be in the Gaulish calendar!)

 

 

 

Activity:

Make your own Celtic festival  calendar in the round.

 

                                                                Summer Solstice

                                                                    About June 21              

BELTANE                                                                              LUGHNASADH

                                May1                                                     August 1

 

Spring Equinox                                  *                                             Fall Equinox

 

               

                IMBOLC                                                                                SAMHAIN

                    February 2                                              October 31                 

                                                                Winter Solstice 

                                                                About December 21

 

You will need 2 pieces of stiff paper or cardboard, a round object (like a saucer) to trace for a circle, scissors, a metal brad, and markers, pencils, and/or crayons. Write the names of the holidays with the dates around one paper.  Draw a line across, from Samhain to Beltane, and color the background below this line, so it is dark, for the dark half of the year.

 

Trace and carefully cut out the circle from the second paper. (You could color this circle to look like the Sun.) Now you can attach the circle in the center, with the brad or grommet, and draw an arrow on it, so it can be turned to show the upcoming festival date. The outer circle can be decorated with pictures of flowers, leaves, fruits, animals, and so on, to fit the seasons.