The 8 Sabbats in the traditional Wheel of the Year come down to neo-pagans from British Traditional Wicca as a mix-n-match set of not-very-accurately-reconstructed festivals from pre-Christian Celtic and Germanic celebrations of the seasonal equinoxes and solstices. I'm a huge fan of creativity in spiritual expression, so it doesn't bother me that these Sabbats as we now know them arrived late to the game and are mostly based on contemporary understandings and enactments of their ancient precursors. I observe these Sabbats with my own creative understanding and activities based on life, climate, and seasons here in Northern California, and I'm grateful at each turn (as an eclectic pagan) that I have the freedom to interpret them as I choose. Having this freedom of expression means that I get to enjoy celebrations that are timely, responsive to the needs of the moment, and diverse in articulation.
In our largely secular American culture, we do not tend to see a primary focus on the spiritual or religious elements of our holidays. Beyond getting a day off or having a good reason to dress up for a party, our holidays are mostly commercial events, with the notable exception of the Christians' Christmas. However, even when observed in the Christian Traditions, Christmas may also retain its secular celebration. Christmas-morning-presents-followed-by-Church go hand in hand in many (though not all) Christian households.
Now, I appreciate my secular holidays. I enjoy days off. I like getting dressed up for a party. But to me, being a High Priestess means that I am also regularly looking for opportunities to thoughtfully sanctify secular experience and use it as yet another opportunity to deepen my spiritual practice. To that end, a few years ago I began observing the following holidays as "American Sabbats":
Martin Luther King, Jr Day
Fourth of July
Indigenous Peoples' Day (known to some as Columbus Day)
Sanctifying these holidays, for me, means that I really think about, research, and meditate on the meaning of each one. Why is each holiday a part of our culture? What are the main themes of each holiday? What are the traditional folkloric activities we perform around these days and where do they come from? What additional magical activities might we perform that would mesh with the holiday beneficially? What are the underlying questions these holidays bring up about American society, past and present? How can I celebrate these holidays with my community in an honoring and responsible way? How can I align myself with the great current of energy being directed at the spirit of each holiday by a large sector of American society in order to seed that current with magic for the greater good of all?
Over this next year, I plan to offer a series of workshops on the American Sabbats at my store, The Sacred Well, in Oakland. These events will be opportunities for interested individuals to gather, discuss the roots, customs and energetic nature of each holiday, and perform ceremony together to sanctify our observance of the holiday. I look forward to addressing the fun activities and traditions (carving pumpkins or watching fireworks), creating new understandings (investigating ways to render our holidays healthier, less costly, less indulgent, more meaningful) and engaging the challenging questions (How we can work with Indigenous Peoples' Day and the Thanksgiving holiday as a means to atone for the vicious colonization of this land and the treatment of Native Americans? How can we focus Labor Day toward creating justice in labor and wage conditions for all? How can we observe the lessons of 9/11 with respect for those who lost their lives and as a critical view of how the rhetoric of violence damages all cultures?)
I'll post more about these discussions and ceremonies here as each one comes up. I plan to start with New Year's and follow the secular American calendar. I'm really looking forward to this project as a way to locate my American-ness and my paganism in a shared pocket of consciousness.