Posted by: christinelaennec | February 2, 2011

Imbolc / St. Brigid’s Day / Candlemas

saint brigid of Ireland's cross Made by Theres...

St. Brigid's Cross

Today, the 2nd of February, is Candlemas in the Christian calendar and Imbolc in the pagan / pre-Christian calendar.  In America, it’s also Groundhog’s Day.  Yesterday, February 1st, was St. Brigid’s Day in Celtic Christian countries. Some also celebrate Imbolc on the 1st.  You might not think there’s much connection between all these nicknames for two days at the start of February, but in fact there is.

As with Samhain, the early Christian church used existing festivals and superimposed Christian feast days on them.  Before the arrival of Christianity in the Celtic countries, Imbolc was one of the important quarter-festivals.  It marked the beginning of the return of the light and fertility.  The name is said to be associated with pregnant ewes, and/or ewes’ milk.  Carin’s blog includes a “Wheel of the Year” illustrating the pagan festivals, if you’re interested to see Imbolc in context (it’s on the right hand side, some way down).

In Celtic countries, Imbolc became St. Brigid’s Day.  I’ve read that St. Brigid was a re-invention of a pagan goddess, and also that she was St. Brigid of Kildare, a 5th-century Irish holy woman.  Either way, St. Brigid’s day in Ireland is a day of blessing the hearth and the home.  Blessings are said on the house, and St. Brigid’s crosses are made from rushes.  These are blessed and hung in the kitchen.  Diary of a Country Wife has posted a good entry on St. Brigid’s Day.  In answer to your question, Country Wife:  I remember Michael’s Irish auntie always had a St. Brigid’s cross on her kitchen wall – renewed at the beginning of each February.

Traditionally, this was also a time to try to determine how much longer the winter would last, and one method of divination was to see whether animals emerged from their holes at this time.  Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica recorded this Gaelic poem:

‘Moch maduinn Bhride,
Thig an nimhir as an toll,
Cha bhoin mise ris an nimhir,
Cha bhoin an nimhir rium.’
Early on Bride’s morn
The serpent shall come from the hole,
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me.

 

The American tradition of Groundhog’s Day is a continuation of this ancient ritual: if the Groundhog can see his shadow, there will be 40 more days of winter.

Lastly, the Christian festival of Candlemas extends the idea of blessing the hearth to specifically blessing the candles that will be used in the church throughout the year.  The wonderful Festivals Family and Food (Diana Carey and Judy Large, Hawthorn Press, 1982) gives this rhyme linking Candlemas with foretelling the weather:

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will take another flight.
If Candlemas Day be cloud and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.”

So now you have any number of ways to mark this moment in the year:  light some candles, bless your home, make a St. Brigid’s cross,or keep a lookout for emerging animals!

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Responses

  1. Goodmorning Christine, thanks for this interesting post.I love to read about this things, as I hardly know anything about it…
    It’s a dull, grey,wet and cloudy day here in Amsterdam…so I hope the winter has gone …
    Hugs
    Erna

  2. Christine, it’s fair and bright here, in Hampshire, at the moment. Thanks for posting such an informative piece. We appear to have dropped a good deal of treasure, in our rush to see the future.

  3. As usual you surprise us with a fascinating story in your formidable writing style.
    Wonderful!
    Much love from a wet but bright day in North Wales

  4. How fascinating! I posted on the number of mid-winter festivals a while back on my own blog and was astounded at finding how many religions have a festival of some sort. Could it be because of our desire to have some hope of spring?
    PS – Knitsister, Here on Anglesey it’s just wet and gray!

  5. Good morning from the wet and windy Hebrides! Wonderful and interesting post Christine. We made Brigid’s crosses from rushes too, although they are not as neat as the illustration, and we had to use blue elastic bands to secure the ends, but i am sure she would not mind. I have a feeling that it may have been part of a ceremony to burn the last year’s cross along with thoughts your wanted to let go of, in a kind of Phoenix ceremony, but there are so many festivals i may be confused with another one. Why not though?
    I wonder if the change in calendar has made this day too early now and it may very well have been celebrated in mid month.
    xx

  6. I found your blog quite by accident and wanted to say what fun it is to really celebrate this time of year. At our home we make crosses on the eve of Saint Brigid’s feast, and gobble up some Irish goodies–colcannon, roast chicken, oat cakes… This year the whole family, including the boys weaved crosses, and though their hands struggled with the wheat weaving, they kept on and conquered! I blogged about it here:

    http://janegmeyer.wordpress.com/

    May this time of new beginnings and more light uplift you all…

  7. great post !! And we made a new Bridgid’s cross yesterday :-)

  8. Dear All, Thanks for the kind and warming comments. I’m so glad you found it interesting. I just love marking the changes in the year. It’s my attempt at mindfulness. Martin, I couldn’t agree more that we have thrown out treasures in our rush towards “progress”. But from the comments here, obviously these traditions are still alive. Jacqui, I can quite imagine that this time of year, the celebration of the hearth and candles, might have also included a “burning” of the thoughts one wants to let go of. It seems to me that this time of year reminds us that in fact we need darkness in order to value light. As you say Dyfed, we need to hope!

  9. One of my knit-blog pals wrote yesterday about wanting to knit an Alice Starmore aran sweater called St Brigid… and she didn’t know it was St Brigid’s Day. I was able to tell her, thanks to your informative post!

  10. Hi Christine. This is an interesting post. I did not know the history of Groundhog Day! We had a big storm yesterday in New England. No shadows here. But no end to winter in site either! More snow coming tomorrow night! Thank you for your nice comment on my recent post.

  11. this is so fascinating! it reminded me of a book i read recently “Brigid of Kildare” by Heather Terrell. it was a super read and kept me enthralled to the end. really amazing reading …. medieval Christianity. i was looking on amazon to see what other books they have on St. Brigid and there seem to be numerous ones, including “The Life of Saint Brigid: Abbess of Kildare”, written by Jane Meyer (who i am assuming is the lady who commented on your blog above :)).

  12. Thank you so much for this post. It is really amazing to see the connections between the celebrations and you presented them in such a concise way. We celebrate the feast of St. Brigid, but it is quite obvious that there are several celebrations that revolve around each other at the same time.

  13. Dear Roobeedoo, Lovely World, ajb47 and H West,
    Thanks for commenting! Roobeedoo I know EXACTLY which sweater the Starmore St. Brigid pattern is. It is stunning. Lovely World, we’ve been following the news of the snowstorms in the States. It seems like this is another record-breaking winter for you guys. I loved the photos of your kids jumping off the roof and into the huge snow drifts! ajb, that sounds like a really good book, thanks! And yes, it is the very same Jane Meyer. H West, I’m glad you found it interesting. I left out one important aspect of Imbolc, which is purification. Stitches by Carin has an in-depth post about that. Thank you so much for stopping by!


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