Alban Arthuan is the Celtic Winter Festival marking the winter solstice, more commonly known as Yule (Norse), and has now merged with the modern celebration of Christmas.
Alban Arthuan is a celebration of the return of the Sun, but its namesake is a bit more elusive. Alban Arthuan means the Light of Arthur. But who is Arthur? The most obvious answer would be Arthur, King of Camelot and head Knight at the Round Table. However, that would put the celebration of Solstice beginning in the 5th or 6th century AD at the earliest, since that is when the King was said to have existed. We have evidence that the Solstices were observed and celebrated by countless other cultures (many with which the Celts were in constant contact) for centuries, well into the BC section of history and it is hard to believe that the Celts did not celebrate these events as well.
One option is that the festival of Winter Solstice once had another name, but the name was changed in honor of the Great King Arthur (who was even said to have been born during the Solstice).
Another interesting option has to do with the origins of the King Arthur tales and the evolution of the Gods themselves. There are many theories as to where and when the tales of King Arthur arose. One school of thought is that the tales of Arthur originated with the Gauls and moved North to the Welsh and to Briton. Gaul is a lesser known Celtic country, lesser known as Celtic that is, and one of the major Gaulic Gods was Artaius, God of Sheep. What do sheep have to do with King Arthur you might ask? Well I asked the same question.
Artaius is a very old God and because of this, information on him is not easy to find. It is believed that, somewhere along the timeline, he merged with the God Gwydion. Gwydion is a Great Wizard and Master of the Powers of the Air. He is the God of art, kindness and magic and can assume any form. At first, this seemed just as absurd as King Arthur originally being the God of Sheep. But upon deeper inquiry it is not so strange as it would appear.
For one thing, the Gauls were an agrarian society. Their lives depended on their crops and their sheep, so the guardian of these things would be incredibly important to them. Modern findings have even uncovered several "temple"like sites in modern Gaul (northern France) which appear to have been dedicated to Artaius.
For another thing, Artaius must have been more than just the God of sheep. The Romans identified Artaius with the Roman God Mercury and Mercury is a very major God in Roman Theology. Mercury is the God of merchants and the God of speed. He is the messenger of the Gods. To pass his messages along he is said to have wings on his shoes and he flys to where ever he needs to go. Even more interestingly, he began his existance as the God of the pasture and then evolved into, of all things, a God who is constantly airborn. An amazing similarity to the Gaulic God Artaius who is said to have startaed as the God of Sheep (the pasture) and then merged or became Gwydion the God of the Air.
––-Note, It may seem a bit odd for the name Artiaus to have changed so drasticly to be Gwydion, but remember, the Celts were and are a vast conglomerate of people with widely different dialects–almost individual languages. The word Gwydion is very Welsh, while Artaius has a very Romanesque tone. It is very possible that these two Gods were "one and the same" all along–just as Hermes and Mercury are considered "one and the same"–and somewhere along the way the term Artaius just dropped out in favor of Gwydion.––-
And lastly, there are the name similarities between the Celtic Gods and the Arthur legend. Artaius for Arthur, Gwenhwyvar for Guinevere, Myrddin for Merlin, Medrawt for Mordred and so on.
So, if we now can conjecture that Artaius was a Major God of more than just the Pasture and perhaps was the Gaulic Great Wizard of the Air, then the Arthur theory begins not to look quite so strange. It also does not seem strange, then, for the Ancient Celts to have a major festival dedicated to the Great Wizard Artaius.
However, we are still left with some unanswered questions:
1.) If Artaius is Arthur, why then did he also become Gwydion? Or is this just two different outcomes, from two different Celtic Nations, for the same God?
2.) If Alban Arthuan is really named for Artaius, and Artaius became Gwydion, why did the festival name not change to reflect that?
3.) If Artaius is not Gwydion, why did the ancients name a major festival after a lesser God?
4.) If Alban Arthuan is named for Arthur of Camelot, what was it named before the time of Arthur
and what circumstances surrounded the name change?
We are still looking for the answers....
If you would like more information on the origins of King Arthur, or about Alban Arthuan, please see the following sites: