Wiccan Sabbats are the Wiccan way of participating in turning The Wheel of the Year.
Wiccan Sabbats are specific seasonal festivals marking important points if transition in the annual cycle known as The Wheel of the Year.In Wicca, The Wheel of the Year consists of eight festivals: solstices and equinoxes, known as the "quarter days", and the four midpoints between, known as the "cross quarter days".
The contemporary Wheel of the Year is somewhat of a modern innovation. Ancient pagan religions of Europe celebrated equinoxes, solstices, and the cross-quarter days for their seasonal and agricultural significances. But very few (if any) ancient pagan religions recognized all eight Sabbats. The modern understanding of the Wheel of the Year comes from modern reconstructionist pagan traditions beginning in the late 19th to early 20th century.
Mid-20th century British Paganism had a strong influence on early adoption of an eightfold Wheel. By the late 1950s, the Wiccan Bricket Wood Coven and Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids had both adopted eightfold ritual calendars, for balance and more frequent celebrations.
Due to early Wicca's influence on Paganism and their mixture of Anglo-Saxon with Celtic practices, the most commonly used English festival names for the Wheel of the Year tend to be Celtic and Germanic.
The festivals celebrated by different traditions of Wicca can vary somewhat in name and date. For our purposes, we will concentrate on the most common. Observing the cycle of the seasons has been important to humanity throughout history, and modern Wiccan Sabbats are based, predominantly on ancient European religious and folk traditions.
The way we construct these Sabbats come from several sources;
Archeology. Some archeological sites and burials have revealed some evidence of what took place, the time of year and even what food was eaten at these seasonal festivals. More is being revealed as archeology becomes more and more sophisticated. Most evidence actually matches many of the traditions followed by modern Wicca.
The oldest surviving written accounts,which were usually written hundreds of years after the Pagan religions of most European regions were wiped out or driven underground. Most of these accounts were written by Christian monks, some of whom attempted to ‘Christianize’ the accounts, while others were surprisingly academic and true to the information available to them.
Folk Traditions. In countless places throughout Europe, folk traditions that include ceremonies and activities from the ancient religious practices survived into the modern era, and were recorded with great accuracy by people like Sir James Frazer (The Golden Bough), Joseph Campbell (too many books and lectures to mention), Charles Leland (Aradia: Gospel of the Witches, but this one is often accused by scholars of being heavily embellished). Stewart and Janet Ferrar (The Witches’ Bible, although certainly heavily embellished in order to reconstruct a modern religion for Wicca, it includes a great deal of information on actual surviving Folk Traditions of Europe in modern times).
The reconstruction of the ancient religions that started in the late 1700’s and gained enormous popularity by the late 1800’s into the early 20th century with secret societies and spiritual systems derived, to varying degree, from ancient practices and modern flights of fancy. The most notable of these in relation to Wicca would be the Golden Dawn.
The Eight Sabbats that make up the Wheel of the Year are
You can read details about each of these on their own dedicated pages.