Every summer and winter solstice, the oak and holly kings do battle in Wiccan traditions. Among Wiccans, eight Sabbats are celebrated throughout the year (called the Wheel of the Year) with Sabbats set about six to eight weeks apart. The Summer Solstice marks the longest day of the year and the ascension of the sacrifice of the Oak King who will pass into the underworld only to be reborn as the Winter Solstice when he slays his successor, the Holly King.
Sacrifice and Commitment
In many traditions, the Oak and Holly kings are dual aspects of the Horned God. Twinned, one cannot exist without the other. As the goddess travels through her phases in the year from maiden to mother to crone, so does her god as he is bound by the duality of the sun. The Oak King, born again at the Winter Solstice slays his brother and other self, the Holly King.
The Oak King represents light and expanding day, heat and sun. From Winter Solstice (the longest night) to Summer Solstice, the length of day grows longer and longer. When the Oak King returns he may be depicted as an infant or as a youth who must grow to maturity with the elongating days.
Summer Solstice marks the longest day of the year and the beginning of the Oak King's demise. The Holly King wakes to reclaim the world once more. Unlike the vibrant, virile Oak King, the Holly King is a man of aged years and maturity. In some texts, he is likened to a woodsy Santa Claus. It is his guidance that brings in the harvest and sees the people through the ever growing darkness.
Enacting the Celebrations
Some legends say that representatives of the Oak and Holly king were actually sacrificed after living as kings for their six-month reigns. Others suggest that these earthly representatives were treated as kings, acted in the roles of their god and then sacrificed their position at the end of their tenure. No matter which is true, modern Wiccans continue to celebrate the return, life and sacrifice of the Oak King every year.