Welcome to Celebrations of the Year
I’ve always had a fascination with the origins of the music of Ireland, my homeland, and my love for the music and traditions has only deepened over the years. Whenever I produce a new recording of traditional Celtic music, a year or more of background research is dedicated to each one.
As you might imagine, by following the music I love, I’ve collected an enormous wealth of material about Celtic music, history and culture.
This year, as a natural outgrowth of this love of the music, we’re expanding the web site to share as much as possible.
We’ve also tried to add just the right music to suit any special Irish or Celtic occasion, or to add depth to your own personal enjoyment of acoustic music.
Here, you’ll find music (and a few related items) that have been specially selected. Hopefully, you’ll find as much joy and and comfort from these traditions and tunes as I did and can immerse yourself more deeply into your own exploration of “all things Celtic….”
Thanks for stopping by and please hope you’ll return often.
May love, laughter and music light your days,
New Year's Day
St. Brigid's Day
St. Valentine's Day
St. Patrick's Day
Maundy (Holy) Thursday
St. George's Day
St. James the Great Day
Summer Solstice - Lithe
Assumption of Mary
Holy Cross Day
Fall Equinox - Mason
Feast of St Francis of Assisi
All Hallows Eve
All Saints' Day
All Souls' Day
St. Nicholas Day
Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Winter Solstice - Yule
Of the many revered Irish authors, poets and essayists, Dublin-born Jonathan Swift, who lived from 1667 to 1745, is remembered and respected for his wit and wisdom ina host of highly acclaimed works, including Gulliver’s Travels, A Tale of a Tub, and A Modest Proposal.
From these and other writings, innumerable quotes are attributed to Swift, including one often considered to be among his most captivating and compelling: “May you live all the days of your life.”
These enlivening words, excerpted from his work entitled Polite Conversation, Dialogue 2, published in 1738, capture, in many ways, the vivacity of the Irish people whose cheerfulness and liveliness are universally appreciated and admired.
His words also serve as an inspiration or a motivation to celebrate and commemorate special times of the year, especially those festive occasions when we gather with others, especially family and friends, to regard the life of a special person or to rejoice in a special season.
In Celebrations of the Year, Swift’s words underscore the significance and importance of several venerated holidays in Irish life, at home and abroad, many of which are featured on the accompanying pages as reminders to us all that a life lived full is a life lived well.
When Christianity was introduced into Ireland, new feasts were superimposed on the old ones e.g. February 1, or Imbolc, originally a celebration of the Goddess Bridget, became Saint Bridget's Day. However, old remnants of the tradition lived on even during my youth. In the film "Dancing at Lughnasadh,' you'll notice there is a bonfire scene towards the end. In more modern times, these fire festivals are often referred to as 'pattern days.'
May 1 later became a feast dedicated to our Lady. I have fond memories of the nuns teaching us how to make a Maypole. It was great fun! Lughnasadh (August 1), originally celebrated the god Lugh (Lugh of the long hand - a sun god).
Samhain morphed into Halloween over time and was replaced with All Souls Day and All Saints Day.
How was the Year Divided?
The year was divided into two halves, the dark half and the light half. For the ancients, the dark always came before the light. Day began for them at dusk, not dawn, and so the year began with the 'dark half' on October 31st or Halloween (Samhain).
-Halloween (or Samhain) was like New Year's Eve and marked the beginning of the New year.
-May 1st (Beltaine) marked the beginning of the "Light half"
-They believed that the "light Half" belonged to the people. This was the time for planting, harvesting, marriages and all human pursuits.
-They believed that the "Dark half" belonged to the 'otherworld,' a time to remain indoors and ward off harsh weather, while the world was sleeping....
What was special about a "Fire Festival"?
The central belief was that the 'veil between the worlds' was thinnest at these power times of year. Since Samhain (or Halloween, as it has come to be known), was new year's eve, it was thought to be an auspicious time to make contact with the otherworld. Initially, it was considered an excellent time for divination. In my youth, we were bobbing for apples, a fruit that is a central part of the harvest celebrations of many cultures.
Similarly, the other fire festivals, although not as important as Samhain, were believed to share these same attributes.
What does "otherworld" mean in the Celtic word?
The world "Celtic" can be tricky and mean many things to different people but let's assume we're referring to ancient Irish practices. * There were several 'otherworlds.' At the risk of over-simplifying, one might say there were three;
1. "Tir na nOg" or "the Land of Eternal Youth." This might be compared to a type of heaven, where a minute in time might equal decades on earth. Tir na nOg appears in many mythology stories of Ireland.
2. The land beneath the waves. Believe it or not, there are selkies (seals that come to life and live as humans) and mermaids in Irish lore and music. (See "The Twilight Realm" - track 3 " The Selkie" and "the Mermaid"
3. The land beneath the ground, or the world of fairy (faerie). This is perhaps the most misunderstood area of Irish folklore! (See The Twilight Realm" album; King of the Faeries and Dance of the Fairies)
QUARTER DAYS/FIRE FESTIVALS IN IRELAND
The Celtic cycle of the year was marked by the Quarter Days: Beltaine, Samhain, Lughnasadh and Imbolc. These boundaries marked the new season, and allowed for movement between the worlds as lines along which the supernatural were thought to break through to the surface of existence.
During these seasonal feasts, the veil between the worlds was thought to be lifted, the obstacles removed, the laws of space suspended, and communion with one's ancestors became a distinct possibility. They celebrated freedom from addiction to the purely visible, in the age-old premise of a life beyond this one, in which our ancestors are no further away than the next world. And that world itself being rather close by.
Beltaine ~ May 1
Beltaine fell on the First of May, May Day, and marked the beginning of the "light half" of the year. As a girl I remember the nuns teaching us how to make a maypole and having great fun dancing around it.
Lughnasadh ~ August 1
Lughnasadh was the harvest feast, and if you’ve had a chance to watch the movie “Dancing at Lughnasadh” (Meryl Streep), it becomes clear how some of these old ways had remained in Ireland well into the 20th Century mingling with the modern and the Christian.
In ancient times, it celebrated the wedding of the sun god Lugh to Mother Earth. It was a time of gathering, games and joining together to reinforce the identity and strength of the community. Still in the "light half" of the year, it was considered the best time for marriages.
Samhain ~ November 1
Samhain was the feast that marked the end of the “dark half" of the year and the beginning of the "dark half." The light half was that of the people, the dark half belonged to the otherworld, the cycle of time being expressed in the basic duality of darkness and light. Samhain, or Halloween as it has come to be known, was actually New Year's Eve in the Celtic calendar. For the Celts, the dark always preceded the light and day began at dusk, not dawn.
Brigid’s Day ~ Imbolc ~ February 1
Brigid’s Day (you can read more on Brigid here) or Imbolc was celebrated on February 1st (or more accurately January 31st) since all celebrations were held the night before. In a nutshell she represtend the divine feminine, was thought to have been present at the birth of Christ and was often known after she was canonized a Saint as “Mary of the Gael.”
The Dark Half of the Year
This dark half of the year (which came before the light half) was the time for solitary introspection and reflection while the earth slept and people waited patiently for Spring.
If we view the Irish fascination with the otherworld (shared by most of Western Europe from the Middle Ages until relatively recently), it could be fairly assumed that the dark half of the year and its attendant emphasis on the otherworld was a metaphor for the subconscious.
These Quarter Day celebrations marked the agricultural cycle of the year and celebrated the union of practical life and the earthly world with that of the spiritual.
It would be difficult to find an area in Ireland that does not have old sites such as “ring forts” or what came to be known as “holy wells” places where ancient lines of power were thought to intersect. After the introduction of Christianity, churches were often built at many of these sites. It was believed that the boundaries between territories were supernatural and that water that flowed between two or three territories might perhaps have curative powers.
Dawn Dusk ~ Dividing the day into Quarters
Parallel to the quarter days, the old Irish believed the day was also divided into four; Dawn, Midday, Dusk and Midnight. Dawn and dusk were especially important since these were times of “betweenness,” passageways that joined that which was coming to be with all that was leaving. I often remember the bells for the Angelus (a devotional call and response prayer in honor of Our Lady) ringing at Noon and many people said it. When television was first introduced the tradition was continued over the air. And a Brigid’s Cross was the symbol on the screen.
Our ancestors paid attention to the world around them, light to dark, night to day, birth to death - all part of life’s vital system, half of which is dying, the other half coming to full life.
Nothing reflects this view so beautifully as the Celtic spirals we now see on Celtic jewelry.
CREATURES OF THE OTHERWORLD & CELTIC MYTHOLOGY
When you mention the world faery (fairy) or sprite, people tend to think "Disney," so it’s always a great surprise to discover that most of the stories from the middle ages originating in Western Europe were all about fairies. Many folklorists think of fairylore as tools for symbolic thinking. When you consider that our forefathers lived in a pre-psychology era, often without the benefit of the written word, fairylore was often a means of coming to terms with the unexplainable difficulties of life.
What about the Solstices and Equinoxes?
These were also considered quite important, although it it thought, not quite as important as the fire festivals. However, going back even further, about seven thousand years to be exact, we have proof positive that some early Irish dwellers (per-Celtic) placed great importance on the Winter solstice, as evidenced by Newgrange. (See articles on "Newgrange and Holiday Traditions")
CIRCLE OF THE SUN
The album 'Circle of the Sun' celebrates the ancient calendar, or the old Wheel of the Year. Fire festivals marked the changing of the seasons in a culture where the agricultural round of the year was central to peoples' lives.
There is a track (or series thereof) for each point on the old calendar.
The most important dates on the calendar were the four 'fire' festivals as follows:
Samhain (which has come down to us as Halloween) on Oct. 31st;
Imbolc (Feb 1st, saint of Bridget, Goddess of all creative things;
Beltaine (May 1, or May Day); and,
Lughnasadh (August 1)
(The spelling of these feasts can vary).