Sabbats honour and celebrate the changing seasons and our place within them. On a deeper level, there is much symbolism in the calendar. The Wheel (or Circle) is symbolic of the way we view the Universe. We worship in Circles; we see cycles in the months, the year, and in our lives. Continually turning, these cycles always return to the original point of beginning. Life is always changing and yet it always stays the same, in that the same types of things always happen and always in the same order. Winter follows Autumn, which follows Summer, which follows Spring; the grain is harvested, consumed, and replanted from the former year's seeds; from darkness we are born into sun. Thus, our "calendar" begins with the new year of Samhain, the final Autumn harvest.
Samhain (Sow'-en) - May 1 (Southern Hemisphere)
This Sabbat celebrates the final harvest of the season. It was traditionally the time when the livestock was culled, with those not likely to make it through the winter slaughtered in order to provide food for the village. For us, it's a time to reflect on what this year now ending has brought to us, and to come to terms with that which we wanted but were not able to achieve. It’s a time to recognise the passing of family, friends, and those in the community who have passed on within this year and ancestors which have gone before. It is said on this night that the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. This night is of special importance, belonging neither to the old year nor yet to the new one. At such times, communication with those who have passed over and not moved on yet may be possible.
Yule or Midwinter - 21 June (Southern Hemisphere)
This lesser Sabbat, occurring at the winter solstice, marks the shortest day of the year and hence, the time of greatest darkness. A festival of joy and light, we gather for song, feasting, and gift-giving. As the Goddess tends her new-born son, she rests from her labours for the current moment, in order to prepare for the change and growth of the coming seasons. It celebrates the birth/return of the Sun God.
Imbolc (Em'bolc - hard, guttural "c") - 1 August (Southern Hemisphere)
This Sabbat was traditionally keyed to the lactation of the ewes. It marks the recovery of the Goddess after giving birth to the new Sun god, who is growing into a young boy by this time. His power is felt in the lengthening days of sunlight, though that power is fickle in his youthfulness as we wake to warm sun one day and cold, grey skies the next. The Goddess begins to manifest the Maiden aspect, with the first few flowers of the season pushing up through the melting snow.
Ostara (O' Star' ah) Spring Equinox - 23 September (Southern Hemisphere)
The first true day of Spring. The Goddess, joyful in the strength and lust of Maiden, begins to blanket the Earth with fertility as the fields initiate their bright flourish of wildflower colours and the trees bring forth new buds. The God stretches and grows to maturity, his strength on the verge of conquering the darkness. At the Spring Equinox are the hours of dark and light equal, and from now until Mabon, the new Sun God will rule in strength.
Beltane - 31 October (Southern Hemisphere)
This Sabbat marks the celebration of life renewed with as much intensity as Samhain marked and honoured death and rebirth. The God is now full-grown to manhood. The Maiden, her fertility all-encompassing, stirs and rouses the God's desires. As they lay amongst creation, united as one by their eternal love, their union creates the new Sun God-to-be, the promise of rebirth to which we hold so close at Samhain. Yet, even though we're reminded at this Sabbat that all things have an ending, it is with joy and hope and desire and passion for the fertility of the world and for ourselves that we dance laughingly around the Maypole. For fleeting moments, the world stands still in promise of what might yet be and the urge to love and merriment overwhelms.
Litha the Summer Solstice or "Midsummer," the longest day of the year. -21 December (Southern Hemisphere)
The sun is at its zenith now; the energies of nature have reached their highest point. The God and Goddess, now mature in their deepening love, revel in the fertility of the earth despite the knowledge that from this point on, his power will begin to wane.
Lammas or Lughnasadh - 2 February (Southern Hemisphere)
This Sabbat is also known as the Festival of First Fruits, as season of yearly harvests begins. The first of the harvest festivals, it also marks the waning strength of the God; the nights grow longer and the days moderate their warmth. The Goddess, now fully enveloped in her Mother aspect, watches in sorrow at his diminishment, but finds comfort and strength in the realisation she carries the seed of the new year's Sun God within her. This is the time of Thanksgiving for those of us in the Craft; a time to give thanks for all the forms of bounty the earth gives to us - the bounty of the harvest; the bounty of the bonds of love found among our family and friends; the bounty of our spirit. It is a time to recognise the lineage from which we come, and to honour the dying God's coming sacrifice.
Mabon or The Autumn Equinox — 21 March (Southern Hemisphere)
Mabon marks the second harvest of the season, and is a time of rest after hard work. Once again day and night are equal. Nature declines, readying itself for the cold winter dark as the Sun God sacrifices himself to ensure life for his children. This Sabbat is also known as "Harvest Home" and the "Festival of the Harvest Moon."