Imbolc – An Ancient Celtic Festival
Imbolc – A Celebration of Spring
Updated 1st February 2021
Imbolc or Imbolg, strongly intertwined with La Fhéile Bhríde (the festival of St Brigid or St. Brigid’s Day), is an ancient Celtic festival dating back as far and possibly even further than the 10th century. It’s one of the four major Celtic festivals which also include Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain.
It marks the beginning of the end of winter and celebrates the first tentative signs of spring and by God do we need that this year!
Imbolc or Imbolg literally means ‘in belly’ and refers to the fertility explosion in both the animal and plant kingdom around this time of the year.
Common Imbolc Customs
It was often marked with bonfires ande lighting of candles both signifying the much hoped for sunshine that was surely to come.
Processions were also held across the Celtic areas of north Europe. Some continue to this day in small pockets of Celtic Europe. See below for details of the annual Imbolc procession in Killorglin, Co. Kerry.
In Ireland, people would often make Brigid Crosses of rushes or straw and hang them on their front doors, this was to bring good luck, prosperity and fertility to the households.
It is also traditionally believed that the Saint Brigid’s Cross protected the house from fire and evil and its shape possibly derives from the pagan sun wheel.
In Christian mythology, St. Brigid and her cross are linked together by a story where she weaved this form of cross at the death bed of a pagan chieftain who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptised.
Children still make them in schools around Ireland today.
How to Make a St Brigid’s Cross
Brigid the Celtic Goddess
Brigid (Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Bridget, Bridgit, Brighde, Bríd) was the Celtic goddess of spring, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft also associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing and was later Christianised as St Brigid.
Modern Day Celebrations of Imbolc or St Brigid’s Day
You won’t find too many processions around Ireland these days but the town of Killorglin near Killarney in County Kerry has revitalised the tradition and celebrates ‘Biddy’s Day’ every year usually holding a torchlight procession through the town along with plenty of traditional Irish music events in various venues and pubs.
There’s a prize for the best Brídeóg, a straw doll representation of Bríd made from rushes or reeds and clad in bits of cloth, flowers or shells, and the Brídeóg or Biddy visits houses throughout the area carried by a group of straw boys akin to the Wren boy parades just after Christmas day.
At one time, weather predictions were also made based on how the weather was on the 1st of February.
If it was sunny it meant a long wintery spring ahead but if the weather was terrible the population could breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to an early spring and better weather to come.
Brigid’s Cross courtesy of Louise Price and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
St. Brigid by Patrick Joseph Tuohy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
For more information on Biddy’s Day, click here