Candlemas…Imbolc, the feast day of the Celtic goddess Brigid marks the beginning of spring, celebrates the arrival of longer, warmer days and the early nature signs of spring on February 1.
Born at a liminal time in a liminal place, Brigid is said to have been born on the threshold of a door (neither within or without the house) and at the breaking of dawn (neither day or night). There is ample proof that Brigid is most likely a continuation of the earlier goddess Brigid/ Brigantia who was worshipped in ancient Ireland.
The word Imbolc means “in the belly,” in the old Irish language, referring to the pregnancy of ewes.
Imbolc is one of the four major “fire” festivals (referred to in Irish mythology from medieval Irish texts. The other three festivals on the old Irish calendar are Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain/Halloween).
St. Brigid is the patron saint of babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle farmers, children whose parents are not married, children whose mothers are mistreated by the children’s fathers, Clan Douglas, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, Ireland, Leinster, mariners, midwives, milkmaids, nuns, poets, the poor, poultry farmers, poultry raisers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, travelers, and watermen.
Celebrating Saint Brigid’s Day
- Nature walk to look for signs of spring
- Eat customary Irish foods
- Read books
- Donate to charity or serve others
- Make Brigid crosses out of straw
- Visit a farm to learn about the cattle and sheep
Brigid would be symbolically invited into the house and a bed would often be made for her and corn dollies made as her representatives. Often a family member, representing Brigid, would circle the home three times carrying rushes. They would then knock the door three times, asking to be let in. On the third attempt they are welcomed in, the meal is had, and the rushes are then made into crosses.
Irish children, especially girls, often dress up in rags and go door to door like trick or treating, chanting:
“Here comes poor Brigid both deaf and blind,
Put your hand in your pocket and give her a coin
If you haven’t a penny, a halfpenny will do
If you haven’t a halfpenny, God bless you.”
One of the earliest references to the St. Brigid’s Cross is from a 1735 poem:
“St. Bridget’s cross hung over door
Which did the house from fire secure
O Gillo thought, O powerfull charm
To keep a house from taking harm;
And tho’ the dogs and servants slept,
By Bridget’s care the house was kept.”
More Information and Activities:
St. Brigid’s Blessings and Poems from Brigidine Sisters
Coloring Page from Waltzing Matilda