At this time of year a very common greeting in rural parts of Ireland is ‘There’s a grand stretch in the evenings, thank God‘. Not that winter is over by any means as February and March can be wicked months weather-wise, with snow, ice, fierce winds and rain. We are still perished with the cold and fires still blaze in hearths,but the nights are getting shorter and we are enjoying about 8 hours 45 minutes of daylight, with an extra three minutes or so added each day between now and June. Lambs are being born, snowdrops are pushing up through the snow. Hardly surprising then that our Celtic forebears marked this time as the beginning of Spring with one of their great fire festivals, Imbolg or Imbolc – the others being Samhain, marking the beginning of the year in Winter, Beltane or Bealtaine marking the arrival of Summer and Lughnasa the great festival to herald Autumn. Imbolg, like the other Celtic fire festivals, marks a ‘cross quarter day’, meaning that it falls half way between an Equinox and a Solstice, so Imbolg occurs mid way between the Midwinter Solstice in December and the Spring Equinox in March. The precise date of each of these events varies by a few days from year to year.
Not a lot is known about Imbolg, but it may well be derived from ‘i mbolg’ which means ‘in the belly’ as Imbolg is associated with lactation in ewes, which happens in the lambing season.
These cross quarter days are celebrated in many forms in different countries. Christians have superimposed religious feasts on these ancient festival dates, so in Ireland we have St Brigid’s Day on February 1st and Candlemas or the Feast of the Purification and Presentation on February 2nd. In the USA there is no such religious imposition as February 2nd is celebrated as Groundhog Day!
St Brigid’s Day is marked in Ireland by weaving of St Brigid’s Crosses from rushes and these are then kept in houses for protection until the following year. This is a lovely simple tradition that has been passed down through generations of school children and families. It hardly matters that St Brigid may be more than likely a Christianized reincarnation of a Celtic Goddess, which may well be one of the reasons why we adopted a foreigner (St Patrick) as our national saint, unless of course there was misogyny at play way back when these things were decreed!
Much has been written about Brigid – there are so many great aspects to her story that deserve telling. My own earlier posts are
Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland has an excellent post on The modern pilgrimages at Faughert on the feast day of St Brigit.
Whichever version of this time of the turning of the seasons appeals to you, may you have a Happy Imbolg, a Happy Ground Hog Day or Happy St Brigid’s Day, wherever you are!