One of the issues that faces Australians and people in other southern hemisphere countries, is when exactly to celebrate the eight Pagan Sabbats. We have a choice here, we can celebrate the traditional northern dates or we can celebrate with the adjusted 180 switch dates. I have of course written about all of this at length before, and I will probably write about it all again!
I, personally, am an advocate for the 180 switch at the least, but even more so I encourage people to pay attention to their regional seasons rather than the common 4 seasons that don’t always match reality. But life isn’t so easy in truth. Learning your regions true seasons is a long and somewhat daunting process and there are some very real and good reasons for keeping with the more common dates, whether northern or southern. And of course I am far more an advocate of doing what works best for you than in doing what I think is good.
Keep it Traditional
Let’s have a look first at why some people choose to follow the northern hemisphere dates when living down south, and what the pros and cons are of this choice.
The Seasons. Celebrating an autumn festival in spring is a bit, off putting, to say the least. But not just that, when celebrating in a religious way, we are honouring nature and honouring what nature is not currently doing is not exactly an easy task. It also is not necessarily spiritually or religiously fulfilling to do.
Décor. Some Pagans love to decorate their home for the season or Sabbat. If you follow the northern dates, do you decorate for the northern season as well? And how do you do that, when the natural world isn’t necessarily going to comply (no autumn leaves in spring)?
Food. It’s not so much of an issue today where we are so often able to buy foods out of season, but it must be said that it is quite a bit more expensive to buy out of season fruits and vegetables. And if you prefer to use home grown foods, well, I wonder at your skill in harvesting pumpkin in October! Also, it’s just a bit odd to eat summer fruits in winter, but maybe that’s just me.
All the Books. Most Pagan and Witchy books will have stuff for the northern dates, so will most blogs and websites and magazines (we don’t have many Aussie Pagan magazines sadly). When your Facebook or RSS feed is inundated with ideas and tips for how to celebrate the northern Sabbat, it’s much easier to follow along with that date.
Mainstream Holidays. Some of the Sabbats are closely aligned with the more mainstream holidays like Easter, Christmas and Halloween, and these mainstream holidays follow the northern dates in every country that observes them – including Australia. Celebrating Yule at Christmas time, though it’s summer, is a great way to not stand out or celebrate with non-Pagan family.
Décor. Funny how this is both a pro and con, but because of the mainstream festivals it is easy to get Yule decorations from the shop when it’s summer time, because Christmas decorations are everywhere. Same goes for Samhain in spring, with Halloween and Ostara in autumn with Easter. Easter is the big one, because chocolate doesn’t keep very well (at least not in this house where I will eat it all).
But why celebrate the northern way when it is so out of sync with the natural world we live in? You can see some of the reasons in the list of Pros actually.
To fit in with the mainstream festivals is usually the main reason. When you have immediate or extended family who are non-Pagan and celebrate the normal holidays, it makes sense to simply stick with those out of season dates for the Sabbats as well.
And of course for those who are in the closet, this is a great way to make you seem relatively normal and assimilating, while still celebrating those festivals that mean something to you.
I know of at least one person who has what I see as a compelling reason for keeping with the traditional dates. Her son has autism and he finds the idea of the southern dates to be distressing because the northern dates are so much more famous and normal to him.
And of course there are those who weren’t born Australia or the southern hemisphere. For those who have moved from a northern country to live down under, the adjustment of the seasons and the Sabbats on top of that can be quite difficult.
Now we can look at the southern dates and why we might use those instead of the northern dates. For those who are not sure, the southern dates are adjusted by 6 months. When it’s Samhain in the north, it’s Beltane here down south. Because when it is autumn up there, it is spring down here.
Mainstream Confusion. What is a pro for the northern dates, is indeed a con for the southern dates. Celebrating what looks like Halloween in April? Uh, weird. Celebrating what looks like Christmas in June? Even weirder, what is wrong with you? And don’t even try to go trick or treating in April, because you’ll probably get put in a mental hospital!
Décor and food. Of course, there are no chocolate eggs sold near to Ostara for us here in the down under. A sad state of affairs, but it is what it is. No Halloween stuff in April, no Yule stuff in June (although there might be a little in July, for that weird Christmas in July tradition of some people).
Stand Out. You will stand out if you decorate to the Sabbat that has a mainstream version. You will stand out if you wish someone a happy Yule in June. There is no in the closet for you. Sorry.
Family. If you have non-Pagan family, the chances of them wanting to celebrate your festival with you is, often, quite slim. And if you refuse to celebrate the mainstream holidays, then you miss out on that time with such family as well. This can be a difficult thing.
Food! Spring fruits are in season and thus cheaper or growing in your garden. Easy to get and easy to make. And of course it just feels better to eat summer foods in summer, and nice hearty soups and stews in autumn and winter.
Décor. Yep, again it’s a pro and a con. The pro here is two ways actually. The natural world will provide a bounty of natural decorations with flowers, leaves, feathers, seeds and the like. And, while we can’t buy Halloween stuff in our shops in April, we can buy them in November for very cheap prices with the after holiday specials. Which is always great!
Ideas. While the blogs and websites are churning out crafts, arts, recipes, rituals and other tips for Halloween in October, that means you actually have a whole 6 months to use those tips whereas those using traditional dates only get that month to use them (or an entire year, by which time they will probably forget). This middle ground is a bit nice to be in actually.
Natural. Obviously, it is just more natural, in the nature way. Celebrating the growing light when the light is actually growing is just more natural than doing it when the nights are getting longer.
Feels Better. It’s just my personal observation, but I personally think it feels better to celebrate with the season and opposite the mainstream and northern dates. It’s nothing more than a feeling, but feelings matter too.
Now to look at why we might celebrate the southern dates instead of the northern. Again you can certainly look at the pros list (and the northern cons list) as to why we would.
It fits with nature, is of course the main reason. The weather, the foods, the symbols, the flowers, the animals – all of it happen in their proper seasons and it is more natural feeling to celebrate those things as they happen, rather than 6 months later.
Solstices and Equinoxes are not arbitrary dates. The summer solstice happens on the literal longest day and shortest night of the year, there is no equivocation here. It’s similar for the winter solstice and both equinoxes. These are literal astronomical moments. When you celebrate the solstice you are celebrating these astronomical moments, these solar moments. You can’t pretend they are opposite to what is actually happening in reality.
One of the reasons that people often don’t mention, but I think is actually worth pointing out – even if we don’t think about it much – is that when we celebrate the Sabbats in their proper seasons in Australia, there is no mistaking your celebration for a mainstream one. For those out of the closet and don’t care if people know you’re Pagan, this is actually a good thing. You don’t feel like you’re just doing Christmas with another name – because you are doing it in June, when no one else is doing it. You don’t feel like your Samhain is a game, because you are not being distracted by the Halloween props. For some of us, this is actually the most helpful thing about having the opposite dates. There is no confusion for us, or for those observing us.
There Are More Choices
I can’t say what the most common choice is, but I think it is the same one that those in the north make. Do it both ways. Celebrate the mainstream festivals and the Pagan ones. The difference for us is, we can celebrate Yule in June and Yule again plus Christmas in December, or Samhain in April and Samhain plus Halloween in October and so on. You can, and many do, have it both ways and get the best of both worlds.
It can be confusing to do, especially when first starting out. But, celebrating Beltane while also celebrating Halloween, as I have said before, is actually a fun idea. Dressing up in costume for Beltane actually sounds like a fun thing to do. In Australia we have already adapted many things for Christmas – this is why we have Santa in shorts and singlet, his sleigh pulled by kangaroos (this in cartoons and stuff, we don’t do that with real kangaroos). Plenty of people use gum leaves and nuts as decorations for Christmas, I think it’s fantastic actually.
You can also choose to ignore the Sabbats and/or the mainstream holidays completely. I know many Pagans in Aus end up following this path at some point, where they just can’t stand the wrongness of the four seasons anymore and begin the process of discovering their specific regions seasons – or look into the Aboriginal seasons.
And even that isn’t an either/or choice – you can still do the Sabbats whilst developing your own seasonal festivals. Hey, the more parties the more fun right? And the more rituals you do, the more involved you are in your religion which is also a great thing, and probably more important than the party thing.
There is Only One Wrong Choice
The only choice you can make in this area that is wrong is to choose based on what someone has told you are the rules*. Just because some Pagan tells you that you must celebrate to the southern dates, or must follow the northern dates, or must stay completely away from the mainstream holidays – doesn’t mean you should do what they say. And just because I have some slightly nicer things to say about the southern dates, doesn’t mean you have to agree with me!
I said above, for example, that the solstices and equinoxes are not arbitrary dates, but there is a caveat to that. Not everyone really cares about the astronomical part. To some people the solstices and equinoxes are similar to the cross quarters, they aren’t about what the sun is literally doing (or what the earth is doing in relation to the sun). Perhaps it is about tradition, perhaps it is about the religion in a more in depth manner – eg. The Goddess and God throughout the year, do They follow the northern or southern dates? Perhaps it is about something else.
It doesn’t matter why you choose the way you choose, so long as it is your choice (or in an above example your childs choice, that you feel is more important). So long as you choose for yourself, there is no wrong choice here. There is no wrong way to celebrate these festivals, to celebrate the seasons and the world around you. Well, other than burning down a forest of course. I suggest not doing that.
*There is a caveat for that too though. If you are part of a coven or other group that celebrates certain festivals on certain dates, then obviously do that. But they also shouldn’t be stopping you from having personal or family celebrations at any other time that you desire. If they are stopping you, you might be in one of those bad cults and should consider running away.
Looking for more posts about the seasons and Sabbats, especially comparing north to south, or from an Aussie perspective?