Updated: Feb 1
Imbolc is celebrated on February 1st and has Gaelic/Celtic origins. In the Wheel of the Year it marks the halfway point between winter solstice and the spring equinox. In Ireland on Imbolc Eve, Brighid (who is known as a goddess and saint) was said to visit virtuous households and bless the inhabitants as they slept. She brings the light half of the year and is associated with the hearth and fire. Bridghid and Imbolc are both synonymous with the promise that spring is returning and that winter is nearing its close. However winter is not over yet and even though we have the resilient snowdrop reminding us of life and growth, the hazel ‘lambs- tails’ showing us the hedgerow will soon burst into life and the burst of brightness from the early flowering witch hazel, we know from the snow flurries of the past few days that we cannot yet let our winter guard down. So the order of the day at Imbolc is still layers of warm clothing to get us outdoors comfortably to experience this first indication of nature’s transition. Traditionally fires would be lit outside and here at Talking Trees ‘headquarters’ we will be doing a garden tidy-up of storm fallen branches & dead foliage and burning it throughout the day with an aim to sit by the fire and eat a simple seasonal Irish/Scottish influenced lunch of Colcannon and Bannocks followed by a toast of Bailey’s Irish cream to ‘Resilience’, something we need more than ever this year.
This time of the year has many folk customs, some of which are related to Bridghid.
In Ireland ashes from the fire would be raked smooth and, in the morning, they would look for some kind of mark on the ashes as a sign that Brighid had visited bringing a blessing on the household.
In the Isle of Man older women would make a bed for Brighid in the barn with food, ale, and a candle on a table. Something similar was also done in the Hebrides where a bed of hay would be made for Brighid and someone would then go outside and call out three times: “a Bhríd, a Bhríd, thig a sligh as gabh do leabaidh” (“Bríd Bríd, come in; thy bed is ready”). Feasts were held and women would dance whilst holding a large cloth and calling to ‘Bridean’ to come and help make the bed. It was also common to make a ‘Biddy’, a doll representing Bridghid, from rushes or reeds and dressed in cloth. The Biddy was carried by children from door to door to give blessing in return for favour of food, drink or money. It should be remembered that at this time of the year the winter supplies would be very low and hunger would have been commonplace as nature’s pantry has yet to be replenished.
The intentions of Imbolc, the first of the year’s markers, is apt for our current climate as we await the hope of vaccine but cannot yet truly emerge and do things but can only consider what we might be able to achieve. Take strength from the courage of the snowdrop, bring light into your home when it still feels in the grip of winter’s darkness and may your heart feel joy as you witness new life & growth in nature.
Brighid’s crosses are made at Imbolc from rushes woven into a cross shape with each ‘arm’ of the cross of equal length. They were hung on buildings & gates as a welcome to Bridghid and kept as protectorates throughout the year.
It is traditionally a time of weather divination and there was an old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens indicating better weather to come.
Snowdrops which offer such hope when all seems lost, as they determinedly push through snow laden ground, were treated with caution in terms of folklore. They were never to be brought into the house as they were known as ‘the death flower’ and would bring bad luck or even death to the inhabitants of the home they resided in. It is thought that they became associated with death due to the time of year they flourish as January and February held high mortality rates due to winter viruses, cold weather and often malnutrition. There are accounts of the funeral bier being flanked by banks adorned with snowdrops on their journey to the grave site and churchyards being full of them. However I like to think that these little flowers being present at the most precarious time of year signify the opposite of death and instead remind us of life and the continuum of nature. That no matter how sad things may seem that hope will find us once more. The sight of witch hazel in flower, its yellow seeming all the more vibrant because of winter's pallid colours, cannot help but bring joy as does the first sight of bulbs pushing through the unkempt winter soil. Spring and summer will come.
Imbolc was traditionally the first day for outside work to begin in Ireland.
Candlemas on February 2nd follows Saint Bridgid’s day and is the Christian Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and churches are lit up with candles. Churchgoers would take their candles to be blessed to bring light into their home and their lives.
If you are not able to have an outdoor bonfire or if you don’t have a fire indoors then why not light your home with candles over the beginning days of February and bring light and inspiration into your life.
This time of the year is a time to reflect, make plans, prepare for what you want to manifest in the year ahead. It’s a lovely time to dream and select a few of those dreams to endeavour to make reality in the coming months.
Things to do at Imbolc, Bridghid’s day and Candlemas.
Light candles (ideally white ones)
Have a bonfire outdoors it you can
Try seeding some mistletoe on an apple tree
Eat comforting seasonal foods of the hearth such as Colcannon, Bannocks, Leek & Potato soup, Homity Pie.
Make a ‘Biddy’ doll from natural materials or prepare a bed for Bridghid to rest and so bless your home and household.
Tidy up gardens, inside the home.
Make plans – a ‘finger’ labyrinth can help organise your thoughts.
If you haven’t already take your Christmas decorations down, it is the last day to do this or face bad luck.
Things to look forward to over the next few weeks
Valentine's Day - show your love to partners, friends & family and also to Mother Earth. ‘The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?’
Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day- a time for sweet treats & silly games - enjoy the day.
This Little Book of Love celebrates and share Love related folklore & is available to
buy from our shop.
And so let us welcome February !