The structure of the ancient world revolved around seasonal quarters which divided the old Solar year and which are marked by the ‘Fire Festivals’. These fall on dates known as ‘Cross Quarter Days’ but assemblies also took place at the Solstices and Equinoxes.
The basic Celtic division of the year was into two parts, for which parts the term samonios (meaning ‘half’) was used.
The winter half was considered the beginning of the year, and the summer half the second part.
At each of these four junctures, a festival was celebrated that involved an impressive amount of custom and lore. The festivals properly began at sunset on the day before the actual date, demonstrating the Celtic tendency to regard the night as preceding the day. This was in line with the dark half of the year preceding the bright half, and the whole complex of thought seems to have been a very ancient one, by which the living community showed the primacy of the dead ancestors (as represented by darkness) over the living community (represented by light).
There are many references to great gatherings of people at the Sacred Centres at the Fire Festivals and some are described as being massive events at which there were religious ceremonies, music, storytelling, poetry, and some sits were famous for match-making and the ‘marriages of a year and a day’.
These gatherings at the great assembly sites were mirrored by traditional festivals around the country when people hiked up the Holy Mountains, visited island sanctuaries on Sacred Lakes or gathered by certain Rivers or Holy Wells.
The great Festivals were regarded as high points of the seasonal year.