Clare Leslie and Frank Gerace’s The Ancient Celtic Festivals and How We Celebrate Them Today.

UnknownYn ha, porth kov a wav. (In summer, remember winter.) — an ancient Cornish proverb

Clare Leslie and Frank Gerace have provided a wonderful resource in¬†The Ancient Celtic Festivals and How We Celebrate Them Today. This slender book (fifty-eight pages) can be read by anyone from upper elementary school on, but younger children would also enjoy it if it were read to them. It is clearly designed primarily for the school and library markets, but “folky” families and those interested in Celtic traditions will also want it for their own libraries.

Ancient Celtic Festivals describes the seasonal festivals of the early Celtic world, particularly Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasa, and explains how they were used to mark the dark and light halves of the year, as well as the natural cycles of sowing and reaping, breeding and giving birth of cattle, and marriage and times of tribal warfare. The summer and winter solstices and the equinox festivals are also covered here, but in less detail, since the earlier Celts did not usually celebrate them; they migrated into the Celtic world later on with the Nordic and Germanic peoples.

Also included in this book is a good bit of general history about the Celts, particularly the Druid and bardic classes. A brief lesson in natural science and astronomy, explaining how the earth’s orbit around the sun and the moon’s phases can be used to mark the changing year, follows the descriptions of the festivals. Finally, Leslie and Gerace show the ties between the old festivals and our modern holidays, and give ideas for ways to celebrate them that are more in keeping with their original intent.

The book is plentifully illustrated, but the effect is not the same as that of a “picture book.” The illustrations are more in the textbook style: fairly detailed line drawings, some filled in with watercolor or colored ink, intended to show specific aspects of Celtic historical dress, tools, artifacts, and traditions. The back of the book contains a small glossary, a bibliography, and an index, which enhance its effectiveness as a reference tool. The bibliography would make an excellent reading list for anyone wanting a basic grounding in Celtic traditions.

(Inner Traditions, 2000)

About Grey Walker

Grey Walker is a Narrative American (with thanks to Ursula K. Le Guin for coining that term). Although she makes money as a librarian, she makes her life as a reader and writer of stories and reviews of stories. She has a growing interest in the interstitial arts. The album she listens to most often is Morning Walk by Metamora. The book she re-reads most often (and she never owns a book unless she intends to read it more than once) is The Smith of Wootton Major by J.R.R. Tolkien.