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Student Media of Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri

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Student Media of Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri

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Imbolc: Pagan holiday of birth and beginnings

Imbolc%3A+the+day+to+celebrate+the+end+of+winter+and+the+arrival+of+spring.
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Imbolc: the day to celebrate the end of winter and the arrival of spring.

Imbolc is the day to celebrate the end of winter and the arrival of spring. 

This holiday has been celebrated in the British Isles since the 10th century, poetry and songs about the date mark it as the first day of spring.

It was closely tied to the livestock breeding seasons when the first baby sheep and cows were born as well as planting for the next year’s harvest. Feb. 1 is halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was regarded as a day of beginning and birth.

Since this was originally celebrated in the British Isles, it is woven into Irish and Scottish history. The day was said to be dedicated to the goddess Brigit who oversaw poetry, prophecy, and fire, and granted fertility blessings to the land. Brigid was worshipped all year round by a class of Celtic poets and historians called the Filid.

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In early history, people would start preparing their homes for Brigid to stay the night before Feb. 1. They would clean and a meal would be prepared, with a serving for Brigid.

“Celebrants prepared for a visit from Brigid into their homes by crafting an effigy of the goddess from bundles of oats and rushes,” History said. “The effigy was placed in a dress and put in a basket overnight.”

From the morning of Feb. 1 to sundown of Feb. 2, they would all burn lamps and light bonfires to keep the land lit for Brigid to travel. Children would craft the three-legged cross of Brigid to protect their homes from fire. The crosses would also hang in their barns to encourage a fertile season for their livestock and their fields. 

They also marked the weather of the day to predict how long winter would stay. It was said that the Celtic goddess Cailleach would spend the day of Imbolc either napping or gathering enough wood for a longer winter while Brigid visited the land. If the weather was fair, with a clear sky and sun, it meant that Cailleach was out collecting wood and the cold months would continue. If the weather was harsh and cruel it meant she was curled in bed and that spring would soon come to the land.

According to the Boston Public Library, these traditions have been adopted by the Irish Catholic Church as St. Brigid’s Day. An adaptation of the Celtic goddess became St. Brigid, who was said to have been a friend of St. Patrick and the very first Irish nun. The Catholic church held the first St. Brigid’s Day in place of Imbolc in the 12th century and kept most of the traditions the same. The cross of Brigid could be made with four or three legs and was commonly taught to young children in Church. This celebration was said to help convince the people of Ireland to convert to Catholicism because they could continue to pray to their deity. St. Brigid’s Day is celebrated as a national holiday in Ireland.

Modern-day Imbolc has become a more private and weather-impacted holiday, separate from St. Brigid’s Day. Pagan and Wiccan practitioners celebrate the original deity and the nature around them. It is one of the smaller and more intimate holidays associated with practitioners of Wicca, Druid, and Paganism alike. American practitioners may liken it to Groundhog Day due to the Cailleach. Many will still watch for bad weather as a sign of the ending of winter.

“If the Goddess Cailleach wishes to make the winter last a lot longer, she will make sure that the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood,” historian Nancy Lankston said in Wild Feminine Path. “But, if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.”

People who celebrate St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc will make effigies of Brigid to watch over their doors or entryways. They will also craft the cross of Brigid out of hay, rush, paper straws, or the stalks of whatever flower they can find. The cross of Brigid can have 4 or 3 spokes and will hang in homes and cars to protect the inhabitants. The cross is kept up for an entire year and burned on the next Imbolc to send away all the bad it held at bay.

If you wish to mark this day, either to celebrate the early history and culture of the British Isles or to celebrate the goddess Brigid and the spring to come, light a candle with your dinner, go on a walk if the weather is fair, and find some beautiful flowers to try and fold into a cross. Imbolc is a day for inspiration and new life, best spent with friends and family. And if nothing else, keep an eye out for the weather on Feb. 1, if the sky is clear then winter will stay, but if the weather is bad spring is on its way.

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Jia (Sophia) Buck, Culture Editor
Jia Buck is the culture editor and a reporter for Lindenlink Media. She is a freshman majoring in Communications with an emphasis on Journalism. Aside from writing, Jia loves strange historical facts, fantasy books, and anything creative. Jia spends her free time with friends or rewatching Gilmore Girls for the hundredth time.
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