To follow "Standard Pagan Calendar" or a calendar following the seasons?
In the Wiccan calendar the year is divided into eight parts by eight sabbats. Usually the dates when these sabbats are celebrated are fixed, often including the sabbats related to the yearly cycle of the sun in spite of the fact that the actual dates of equinoxes and solstices differ from year to year. From Wicca, this Wheel of the Year has spread widely to Neo-Paganism and it is so often described as being "the common Pagan calendar" in so many literary sources including websites with basic information on Paganism that it could be called "Standard Pagan Calendar". It is very common to follow the SPC, even to the extend that following some other type of calendar causes astonishment. This seems to be because of the standard calendar has reached such a self-evident status among Neo-Pagans.
In the cases when the differences in the calendar is because of the Pagan in questions follows a religion with its own distinct calendar (like for example Hellenic Pagans), the reaction changes from wondering to interest. However, having a Pagan announce that she follows a calendar similar to the standard calendar, but doesn't celebrate some of the sabbats at all and/or celebrates some of the sabbats on a different date or with different meanings than "everybody else" may rise reactions other than interested astonishment. After all, every proper Neo-Pagan celebrates all eight sabbats and on the dates (and with the meanings) they are supposed to be celebrated!
Some oppose "messing" the standard calendar because they think that a calendar adapted to either the personal views of an individual Pagan or the actual season the Pagan lives in isn't symmetric anymore and thus magickally imbalanced. Some say an adapted calendar has the legends of the gods distorted. The fact that the individual Pagan in question doesn't follow a Wiccan or Wiccan based yearly legend of the gods anyway doesn't seem to matter... Some argue that having a sabbat at the wrong date means that the energies which are at their greatest on the "power dates" will be missed, making the celebrations and rituals considerably weaker... even weak enough to make them wanton. I've even been told about commentaries basically stating that the gods don't listen to those worshipping on "wrong dates".
What Pagan authors say about sabbats varies. While some authors recommend their readers to adapt the phases of the yearly cycle to correspond with the cycle of their own climate, many seem to simply tell one version of the dates and their meanings without mentioning any possibilities for adapting them.
In the Standard Pagan Calendar four of the eight sabbats follow the yearly cycle of the sun; the summer and winter solstice and the spring and autumn equinox. In Wiccan calendar these are called the "lesser" or "minor" sabbats. The other four are situated evenly between the solstices and the equinoxes (the "greater" sabbats of Wicca). On these dates, the yearly cycle of nature and agriculture with its changing seasons are celebrated, along with important happenings connected to or stemming from cattle-farming.
The descriptions centers on the commonly stated natural cycle, with mythical cycles of the deities left out.
Feb 1st/2nd. Imbolc / imbolg / oimelc/ candlemas / Brigit's Day
The spring arrives; the winter starts to give way to the next season. It is time for celebrating light and fire. It is the time for cleansing, both for the home and in a more personal level. It's the time for changes, the quiet life of the winter changes to the busy part of the year. Lambing season, the date to celebrate the budding life emerging in spring.
March 20th/21st Ostara / eostra / Lady Day / Spring Equinox
Light conquers darkness. The first real day of spring, when the masculine and feminine forces of nature are in balance. The date when the seasons have properly changed - the trees are having their leaves, birds sign and build their nests, it's time for the first planting and sowing of seeds, the date for beginning the work in the gardens.
April 30th / May 1st Beltane / Walburgisnacht/ May Day
The celebration of fertility, birth and blooming of all life. It is summer, trees are in full leaves and flowers, birds are tending their eggs and some even their young. The cattle are moved to their crazing grounds through the smokes of the may bonfires.
June 21st / 22nd. Summer Solstice / Midsummer
The longest day of the year. Midsummer - the summer is at its fullets. Crops are growing, flowers are blooming and the animals have their young to tend to. It is the time for great magicks and bonfires now that the night is at its shortest.
August 1st/2nd. Lammas / Lughnasadh
The time of the first harvest. Death steps into the picture in the form of "death of the corn", the cutting of the crops. The first bread are baked from the first harvest.
September 20th/21st. Mabon / Autumn Equinox
The second harvest, the beginning of autumn and the ending of summer. The time for collecting fruits. Another day of balance between light and dark.
October 31st / November 1st. Samhain
The end of summer. The year is changing - the last harvest has been collected and the farm animals move from summer's crazing grounds to their winter confinements. It's time to celebrate and commemorate the dead..
December 20th/21st. Yule / Winter Solstice
The shortest day of the year, after which the light starts to return.
The meanings connected to sabbats in the Standard Pagan Calendar originating from Wicca are closely connected to the yearly cycle and the changing of the seasons in the "home of Wicca", that is the British Isles. However, that cycle, the changing of the seasons or even the number of seasons vary greatly from one climate to another, from one location to another. Thus the fixed dates or meanings of some or even all sabbats do not directly correspond to the actual yearly cycle of the surrounding nature for a large number of Pagans.
If one wishes to follow the dates of the Standard Pagan Calendar, but with a more personal touch, one can adapt the meanings of the sabbats to correspond better with one's own climate and surroundings.
The following will use my own climate as an example. I am located in Finland, which belongs to the temperate coniferous-mixed forest zone and in Finland to the South-West with milder climates than the majority of the country. We have relatively long springs and autumns, rather short summer and a cold winter.
Celebrating the arrival of spring in the early February doesn't necessarily seem that sensible when the temperature is -20 Celsius / -4 Fahrenheit and it's basically the coldest time of the year. On the other hand, during this time the snow on the ground has developed a hard pearly surface which at nights reflects the light of the moon, colouring the whole nature in a mystical blue light. During the days, the snow shimmers so bright it's almost blinding. At times, both the sun and the moon can be seen on the sky at the same time. On the other hand, it is cold and the warmth of the fire is more than necessary.
So, instead of celebrating the arrival of spring and the lambing season, light and fire, one could for example celebrate the beauty of winter, light and fire. Besides - why celebrate only spring, summer, warmth and light? Winter is a beautiful, important and valuable season in its own right!
During the Spring Equinox there can still be a lot of snow on the ground. If the early spring / late winter have been warm, the earliest spring flowers may be blooming, but often this isn't the case. At home, he seeds for plants to be later planted outside can be sown to sprout, but it isn't yet time for planting or sowing outside.
It is still early spring, the transition time from winter to spring. Unlike in areas where the yearly changes between the hours of darkness and the hours of light in a 24 hours time, in the northern areas the equinoxes can be seen as quite important. The light and dark are in balance and the light increases little by little, day by day. The spring and the summer are coming inevitably, even if there may still be rather cold days ahead. The meanings connected to the previous sabbat can in a colder climate be celebrated during the Spring Equinox. The spring is arriving, it is the time of clear transition - even the lambing season falls on March/April
For a Finn, the traditional celebrations of our version of First of May called "Vappu" with its celebrations involving drinking, eating, making marry and ... making love fit quite well with the Pagan celebrations of fertility and life. The spring has truly arrived - and spring it is, even if it was snowing! The spring's sowing and planting is starting and the farm animals will (soon) be let outside...
At Midsummer the sun doesn't set at all in many locations and even in the south it doesn't get dark before after sunset before the sun rises again. When the May day is time to get intoxicated by the spring, at Midsummer is for enjoying the summer. Our summer is short and from this day forward the end of summer will slowly but inevitably creep closer It is the time for Midsummer magicks and for bonfires - like in the Standard Calendar.
At the beginning of October, it's time for harvest. This means the SPC fits rather well, except that in the more northern regions it is already quite autumn and for southern regions, this is a good time to celebrate the forthcoming fall season. Celebrations designated to the Autumn Equinox fit to the natural cycle rather well, except that in stead of celebrating the beginning of autumn, celebrating autumn itself would be more fitting. During this time, the autumn may show the signs of forthcoming winter.
The most important sabbat of the SPC, Samhain, with its meanings correspond quite well to the traditional end of the year festival, Kekri. However, for us it isn't a season marking the end of summer - for a large part of the country it is already the end of autumn. The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, can be generally speaking celebrated according to the SPC without major adaptations.
Another way of approaching the question of adapting sabbats is to move the dates of fixed SPC dates to accurate ones. That means for example celebrating the equinoxes and solstices on their accurate dates, when they happen. Many quite mundane calendars have this information and getting to know the exact times of day isn't too difficult either, especially if one uses calculating programs available on the Internet.
The "four other sabbats" (in the parentheses you can find one of the names of a given sabbat) you can calculate to land on exactly between the equinoxes and solstices. One can also use astrological grounds - dates when the sun is at 15° of a fixed sign; Aquarius (Imbolc), Taurus (Beltane), Leo (Lammas) and Scorpio (Samhain).
When the cycle of nature (and agriculture) is more important to a practitioner than carefully defined dates, one can time one's celebrations - those one wishes to celebrate - according to what is happening around oneself. This can mean for example celebrating spring when the spring is arriving, choosing an appropriate date by oneself. Another example: For a Pagan who lives in Lapland, north from the Artic Circle, celebrating the rebirth of sun and the return of light when the sun rises for the first time after the arctic dayless days instead of during the Winter Solstice can make religious practice much more personal and touching.
Agricultural celebrations can be had according to the agricultural cycle of one's own area, marking for example sowings and harvests when they actually happen, not when these events should be celebrated according to the SPC. Keeping a close eye of what's happening on the fields nearby helps tremendously. In most of Finland there is only a short distance to the nearest agricultural areas and to the wilderness, so keeping a track of natural cycles doesn't ask much extra work in the first place. Listening to agricultural radio programs (or watching TV) can give you clues, too.
For a big city Pagan agriculture is a far away thing, but even city parks follow the course of nature and a Pagan can very well adapt the sabbats to meet the natural cycles. However, instead of agricultural events, one can concentrate on the arrival of migratory birds, the blooming of flowers, falling of leaves The possibilities are there to take.
Adapting requires more work than following the SPC as is, but like with many other things - doing the work pays off. If you do not feel a calling to celebrate a given standard sabbat or celebrating one doesn't seem to fit your own Paganism, I don't really see any reason why you should celebrate it. Actually, I see similarities - at least on some levels - between celebrating all the standard sabbats no matter what, even if there is absolutely no personal connection to one or some of them because "everybody else does it and it says in the book that this is how it has to be" and participating in the celebrations of a religion you don't believe in at all "just because that's what you're supposed to do".
From an Eclectic's point of view,