My Personal Festival Calendar

What sort of festivals, memorials or seasonal observances do you keep throughout the year?

Well, this is slightly embarrassing. I don’t feel like I’m a very devout polytheist, sometimes.

Let me give a little background: I’m very much a group-oriented person. This makes things occasionally difficult, because I’m also an introvert–but that’s not the point, here. The point is, I find it hard to keep a continuing solitary practice. Or, at least, I find it hard to keep anything that looks from the outside like a practice, if I don’t have a couple of other people to do it with. So, when asked what kind of festivals I keep, I’m afraid I look like a very bad polytheist, indeed.

When I was working with a Wiccan coven, I kept all the usual Sabbats. But when that coven fell apart, as they sometimes do, my active observance of overtly Pagan holidays fell off. Mind you, I was never sure what to do with holy days like Imbolc or Lammas at the best of times.

What I do keep, so far as seasonal or annual festivals, tend to be ones that coincide with mainstream holidays, and ones the rest of my family keep. The three big ones are Samhain, Yule, and the Fourth of July. They’re all observed with a low-key mix of secular and Pagan elements.

Samhain is the big one, for me personally. If I had the budget and the energy, I’d spend the last weekend of September transforming my house into something like the Addams Family house, and leave it that way until Thanksgiving. There’s something about the visceral inevitability of death that makes the plastic skulls and Styrofoam tombstones feel warm and comforting to me. It’s like dealing with existential terror by inviting the Reaper in for a beer and swapping stories about our kids.

It’s also a solid reminder that someday, I’ll be an Ancestor. I don’t know if I’ll ever live up to the “mighty” part of Mighty Dead, but I’ll go into the sunless lands none the less, and gladly take up my duty of griping into the ears of my descendants. Samhain reminds me that I am part of that chain of lives that makes up history, in a way that’s both elevating and humbling.

So on October 31, I pour a shot of rum for Ghede and a shot of bourbon for my southern ancestors, and spend a few moments in contemplation and prayer. Then, I put a cheesy horror flick on the TV to be interrupted every five minutes by the need to pay protection in sweets to keep the neighborhood child-ghouls in line.

Yule is different. I’m not, personally, into the trappings of Christmas. I’d do up a tree, because the lights are pretty in the dark, and leave it at that. However, my family is as into Christmas decorating as I am into Halloween, so I end up putting as much effort into wreaths and cheery, snowbound miniature villages (though I insist on adding Daleks to the scene) as I would into cobwebs and Jack-o-Lanterns.

That’s just the set decoration, though. The real observance is the solstice vigil, also known as the community slumber party (sans slumber). Fifteen or twenty of our friends gather at my place to stay up all night, telling stories and playing games. We light a candle at sunset, set a fire in the grate, hold a brief ritual of song and gratitudes at midnight, and sing up the sun at dawn. We burn the trunk of last year’s Yule tree in the morning fire.

It seems to work, as the sun keeps coming up. Though, to be fair, if a bunch of us sleep-deprived fools were singing Paganized Christmas carols of dubious poetic value while you were in bed, you’d get up, too.

See what I mean? I’m the only one who feels so strongly about Samhain, so there’s not a lot of ritual there. The family is into Yule, though, so we go the whole nine yards.

The Fourth of July may seem to some a strange day to keep as a holy day, but it makes sense in my mind. I regard the Founding Fathers (and the less famous but no less valuable Founding Mothers) as a sort of civic ancestors. I may not like everything they did–and there’s plenty to critique–but they shaped the world I was born into, and thus the person I am today. I owe them for helping make me who I am, and I repay that debt by keeping their memory alive. With an annual showing of the musical, 1776.

You, in the back row! I heard that!

Yes, well, it does play loosely with history. And some of the musical numbers come off a bit cheesy. But it’s the spirit of the thing, yeah?

Oh, we also read the Declaration of Independence aloud, and grouse at the lack of inclusion of women in the common story of the revolution, and complain bitterly about how recent generations have pissed away the legacy of our nation’s Mighty Dead. But, all that aside, it’s nice to be able to take a break from the cynical realities of life in the modern USA to remember the ideals of liberty and justice for all that are supposed to be guiding us.

Additionally, I host quarterly feasts for Dionysos. I spend the two or three days before cooking and cleaning, and then have twenty or thirty friends over for a Revel that lasts into the wee hours of the morning. We begin with an invocation to Dionysos, and a communion of grape mead I brew. After that, it’s all party. I’ve been hosting these for fifteen years, and they are, for me at least, deeply moving. Most everyone else enjoys them, but I don’t think everyone gets the same level of spiritual satisfaction from them that I do.

I’m also working on a calendar celebrating the major points in the life of Dionysos, keyed to the life cycle of the California vineyards, but that’s not quite ready yet. And, there’s that problem about being group oriented…

I ought to mention Pantheacon, as well. It’s an annual convention of Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists, Goddess worshipers, and other alternative religious folk. It’s the grand convocation in which two thousand of us gather in a San Jose hotel to worship together, discuss our faiths and practices, buy and sell our crafts, and generally hobnob and schmooze.

I’m also running a Dionysos devotional ritual this year, but more on that in a later post.

So that’s my festival calendar. I hadn’t realized it until just now, but it’s still eight festivals, just a little loosely joined, thematically. Still, it’s what means something to me, and while that’s not all that matters, it does count for a lot.

How about you?

My lover Ember and I have decided to go through Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheist Meme questions together, over the next several months. We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers in our comments, as well as your thoughts on our answers. Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.

About Ashley Sarver

Ashley Sarver is a queer, nonbinary trans femme, polytheist, gamer, and disability caregiver living in the San Francisco Bay Area. View all posts by Ashley Sarver

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