CELEBRATION OF IMBOLC (BRIGID’S DAY) aka CANDLEMAS; GROUNDHOG DAY
Imbolc or Imbolg, also called Brigid's Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Bríde, Scottish Gaelic: Là Fhèill Brìghde, Manx: Laa'l Breeshey), is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. It is held on or about Feb 1, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Imbolc is one of four Celtic seasonal festivals: Samhain (November 1), Imbolc (February 1), Beltane (May 1) and Lughnasadh (August 1).
Although Imbolc is celebrated around Feb 1, the day begins Jan 31and ends at sunset, Feb 1. Originally, dates were based on seasonal changes and associated with lambing season, which could vary by two weeks, before or after Feb 1 as well as the beginning of the spring sowing, and the blooming of the blackthorn bush (aka Sloe).
The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations involved hearth-fires, special foods, divination, candles or a bonfire. Fire and purification were important parts of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. Spring cleaning was customary.
Holy wells were visited at Imbolc, and at the other Gaelic festivals of Beltane and Lughnasa. Visitors to holy wells prayed for health while walking 'sunwise' around the well. They left offerings of coins or clooties. Water from the well was taken home for blessing family members, domestic animals and fields.
Offerings were made "to earth and sea" with milk poured into the ground and porridge poured into the water, as a libation.
On Imbolc Eve, Brigid visited households and blessed the people living there. As Brigid represented the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, inviting her into the house was very important at this time of year.
Brigid would be symbolically invited into the house and a bed was made for her. In the northwest of Ireland, a family member, representing Brigid, circled the home three times carrying rushes and then knocked on the door three times, to be let in. After being welcomed in, the meal is eaten and the rushes are made into crosses. In 18th century isle of Mann, the custom was to stand at the door with a bundle of rushes and say "Brede, Brede, come to my house tonight. Open the door for Brede and let Brede come in". The rushes were strewn on the floor as a carpet or bed for Brigid.
In the 19th century, some Manx women would make a bed for Brigid in the barn with food, ale, and a candle on a table. In the Hebrides in the late 18th century, a bed of hay was made for Brigid and someone called out three times: "a Bhríd, a Bhríd, thig a stigh as gabh do leabaidh" ("Bríd Bríd, come in; thy bed is ready" . A white wand made of birch, was set by the bed representing the wand that made the vegetation start growing again. In the 19th century, women in the Hebrides danced while holding a large cloth and calling out "Bridean, Bridean, thig an nall 's dean do leabaidh" ("Bríd, Bríd, come over and make your bed").
Before going to bed, people left items of clothing or strips of cloth outside for Brigid to bless. Ashes from the fire were raked smooth and, in the morning, everyone looked for a sign that Brigid had visited. The clothes or strips of cloth were brought inside, and it was believed to have powers of healing and protection.
In Ireland and Scotland, a representation of Brigid was paraded around the community by girls and young women. It was known as a Brídeóg, and made from rushes or reeds and clad in bits of cloth, flowers and/or shells. In the Hebrides of Scotland, a bright shell or crystal called the reul-iuil Bríde (guiding star of Brigid) was set on its chest. The girls carried it in procession and sang a hymn to Brigid while wearing white with their hair unbound. They visited every house in the area, where they received food or decorations for the Brídeóg. They then feasted in a house with the Brídeóg in a place of honor, and put it to bed with lullabies. In the late 17th century, families in the Hebrides made a bed for the Brídeóg out of a basket. When the meal was done, the young men asked for admission, blessed the Brídeóg, and joined the girls in dancing.
Sometimes, rather than carrying a Brídeóg, a girl impersonated Brigid going from house-to-house wearing 'Brigid's crown' and carrying 'Brigid's shield' and 'Brigid's cross', all of which were made from rushes. The procession in some places included 'strawboys', who wore conical straw hats, masks and played folk music; much like the wrenboys.] Up until the mid-20th century, children in Ireland still went house-to-house asking for pennies for "poor Biddy", or money for the poor. In County Kerry, men in robes went from house to house singing.
In Ireland, Brigid's crosses were made at Imbolc. A Brigid's cross consists of rushes woven into a four-armed equilateral cross, although three-armed crosses have also been recorded. They were hung over doors, windows and stables to welcome Brigid and for protection against fire, lightning, illness and evil spirits. The crosses were left there until the next Imbolc. In western Connacht, people made a Crios Bríde (Bríd's girdle); a great ring of rushes with a cross woven in the middle. Young boys would carry it around the village, inviting people to step through it and so be blessed.
Today, some people still make Brigid's crosses and Brídeógs or visit holy wells dedicated to St Brigid on Feb 1. Brigid's Day parades have been revived in the town of Killorglin, County Kerry, which holds a yearly "Biddy's Day Festival". Men and women wearing elaborate straw hats and masks visit public houses carrying a Brídeóg to bring good luck for the coming year. They play folk music, dance and sing. The highlight of this festival is a torchlight parade through the town followed by a song and dance contest.
Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens was a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:
Thig an nathair as an toll
The serpent will come from the hole
Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach—the divine ancient woman of Gaelic tradition—gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over. At Imbolc on the Isle of Man, she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, and takes the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak.
In Celtic myth, Brigit (Bridget), was the daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the wife of Bres of the Fomorians, with whom she had a son, Ruadán. As a triple-headed goddess she was known for her roles as a poet, a worker in metal and a helper to midwives.
Brigit was "a woman of poetry, and poets venerated her, for "her gait was very great and very noble". And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith's work, and it was she who first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night. And though one side of her face was ugly, the other side was beautiful, and she was known as Breo-saighit, a fiery arrow."
She is the goddess of all high things including flames, hill-forts upland areas; and of lofty and elevated activities, such as wisdom, excellence, perfection, intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship (especially blacksmithing), healing ability & wisdom. In the living traditions, whether seen as goddess or saint, she is largely associated with the home and hearth.
Brigid was associated with perpetual, sacred flames including the one maintained by nuns at her sanctuary. The sacred flame at Kildare was said, by the 12th century chronicler, Giraldus Cambrensis, to have been surrounded by a hedge and for a male to cross it he risked serious harm to himself.
The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred, naturally-occurring "eternal flames" is a feature of ancient Indo-European spirituality. Other examples include the Roman goddess Vesta, and other hearth-goddesses, such as Hestia.
Brighid was also connected with holy wells. Well-dressing (well-flowering), the tying of cloth (clooties) to the trees next to healing wells, and other methods of petitioning or honoring Brighid still take place in some Celtic lands and among the diaspora.
At the same time of year Vasant Panchami is celebrated in India, a festival dedicated to Saraswati, who is their goddess of knowledge, language, music and art, symbolizing creative energy in all its form. The season celebrates the ripening of the yellow flowers of mustard crops. Saraswati is one of the trinity (Tridevi) that includes Lakshmi, and Parvati.