Happy Imbolc!: Celebrating the Celtic Festival

Al giorno d’oggi quasi nessuno l’ha sentita nominare o non sa cosa sia esattamente Imbolc, eppure una volta era considerata un’importante festività celebrata in Irlanda, Scozia e sull’Isola di Man.

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Daniel Francis

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Imbolc Fire Festival in Yorkshire.

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Imbolc, traditionally celebrated on February the 1st, is one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals; the other three are Bealtaine, celebrated on May the 1st, Lughnasadh, on August the 1st, and Samhain, on October 31st. Imbolc originated as a pagan festival and was associated with the fertility goddess Brigid and the preparation for spring. However, over time it became Christianised, particularly in Ireland, and was converted into the festival of Saint Brigid, an Irish Christian nun who founded numerous monasteries in Ireland in the 1st century. And so, Imbolc also became known as Saint Brigid’s Day, or simply Brigid’s Day.

good fortune

Historically, Imbolc, and later Saint Brigid’s Day, was celebrated by families throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. People believed that Brigid visited their home at this time of the year to bring them good fortune, fertility and prosperity. And so, they prepared food, drink and a bed for Brigid on the eve of Imbolc, and also left things at their door for her to bless. Typically, they made Brigid’s crosses from woven rushes and doll-like figures, called ‘Brídeógs’, filled with straw. They then hung the crosses over their doors and carried the dolls through the streets, to ward off evil spirits. They also had a feast, lit fires to symbolise the returning power of the sun and cleaned their homes to prepare for the coming year.

revival

Although people stopped practising most of the traditions associated with Imbolc in the last century, they have revived some of them in recent years. In the Irish town of Killorglin in County Kerry, people celebrate Biddy’s Day Festival every year in honour of the pagan and Christian origins of Imbolc. On the first Saturday in February, men and women wearing elaborate straw hats and masks visit the pubs of Killorglin carrying a Brídeóg, to bring the locals good fortune for the coming year. And in the evening, they participate in a torchlight parade and in a song and dance contest.

Celtic neo-pagans and Wiccans throughout the world also continue to celebrate Imbolc, and you can celebrate it too by doing something symbolic, like lighting a candle, cleaning your home, or planning what to plant in your garden once spring arrives. Happy Imbolc!

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