By in Holidays

Imbolc: A Little Known Celtic Holiday

Imbolc is traditionally seen as the beginning of spring, but for me it has always been a turning point. An ancient Celtic fire festival traditionally celebrated around the second of February, it is one of the four cross-quarter days in the contemporary Pagan calendar.

We are taught that the name comes from an Irish Gaelic words i mbolg , which mean “in the belly.” This is a reference to the ewes carrying and birthing the lambs that herald the coming of the spring.

A lot of Pagans today have very little idea how to mark Imbolc. Unlike Beltane (Mayday) and Samhain (Halloween) this is a Pagan holiday that hasn't really passed into modern culture. Some Catholics or followers of Eastern Orthodox religions celebrate the day as Candlemas, but the only evidence of Imbolc in popular culture is Groundhog Day .

Imbolc as the Herald of Spring

I see Imbolc as the first sign that the sun is returning after the darkness of winter. The beginning of February is usually the first time I really notice the difference in the length of the daylight hours. The trend has been underway since the winter solstice (Yule) but until Imbolc the difference from one day to the next is so small that it's really not noticed. It seems to sort of catch up with us by Imbolc, and we can really feel spring in the air by the spring equinox (Ostara.)

Both milk and the returning sun are key elements in the celebration of Imbolc. Foods made from dairy products are shared, as are fried foods such as bannock. Last year at Imbolc my family was fortunate to receive a batch of fry bread made by First Nations friends who live on the local reserve. It was a bit like a cross between a Scottish bannock and a sweet beaver tail.

End of the Yuletide Season

As the light returns and we focus on the purification and cleansing that comes with the spring, Imbolc is the time when we traditionally remove the last of our winter decorations. If there has been a Yule log, it is burned. Some people also burn corn dollies that were made in August for the feast of Lughnassadh.

Another tradition associated with Imbolc is the blessing of candles, which has been carried over into the Christian holiday of Candlemas. Children enjoy making Brigit's crosses from reeds or straw, and they may use these or a corn doll to make the Bride's Bed. And of course there is the tradition of weather divination, which is carried over into the modern tradition of Groundhog Day.

| | | | |

Image credit: Lambing by Dave Catchpole/Flickr ( CC BY 2.0 )

Source: Isaac Bonewits, “ A Neopagan Druid Calendar 2.4.1 ” (

Note: This content has been migrated from Bubblews by the author

Image Credit »

You will need an account to comment - feel free to register or login.


maxeen wrote on January 31, 2015, 12:40 PM

I enjoyed your write but must admit I know little about the subject,nice picture also.

NorthernLight wrote on January 31, 2015, 12:51 PM

What an interesting post and not one I have heard of. Like the thought of fried bannock though.

BNelson wrote on January 31, 2015, 12:51 PM

You are correct this one of the less known Pagan holidays I do agree that groundhog day is probably its modern translation

j2jworkz wrote on January 31, 2015, 1:04 PM

Have not heard of this, thanks for the info!

valmnz wrote on January 31, 2015, 2:01 PM

Interesting to learn about this. It's the 1st February here in New Zealand And autumn is only a month away. I've noticed our days becoming slightly shorter.

seren3 wrote on January 31, 2015, 2:26 PM

How interesting. I've had no idea where the ritual of Groundhog Day came from!

Galeforcewinds wrote on January 31, 2015, 3:01 PM

Thank you. I admit this is one of those that I fail to celebrate as I should. I have been itching for Fry Bread, maybe it is a good time to make some.

CoralLevang wrote on January 31, 2015, 3:50 PM

Fascinating read. I want to come back to this one to study a bit more, Ruby3881 !!

celticeagle wrote on February 1, 2015, 1:01 AM

Very interesting article.

snerfu wrote on February 2, 2015, 12:01 AM

Spring is always worth waiting for. It is nice to read about the traditions which I know very little about.

Ambermol wrote on February 3, 2015, 8:28 AM

My Yule log was ceremoniously burned, and I always use candles at Imbolc. Nice piece :)

JeanC wrote on February 4, 2015, 12:31 AM

It has been quite a while since our coven has celebrate Imbolc. All our members have gotten older and we seem to only have energy for the major rits emoticon :sad:

BrenndaMarie wrote on February 5, 2015, 5:34 AM

This was such and interesting article my dear. I love to read about the Celtics I an highly interesting in this subject.

Ruby3881 wrote on February 5, 2015, 11:40 AM

When my in-laws got older, we took to just having family meals at the Sabbats. We'd bless the wine and pass the chalice around during the meal. Ritual is a tool and an outward expression of what's happening inside. The ritual itself isn't the important thing: it's recognizing the tides and their impact on life. And doing whatever we can to help keep the Wheel turning emoticon :smile:

Ruby3881 wrote on February 5, 2015, 11:41 AM

Sometimes just cooking that special meal, or planting seeds in the garden, can be enough of a celebration emoticon :smile:

Ruby3881 wrote on February 5, 2015, 11:43 AM

We tend to use candles at all our rits. But of course, they have more importance at Imbolc!

JeanC wrote on February 5, 2015, 12:50 PM

Truth. I just need to start doing things myself again. I used to be a solitary and observed things in little ways. Just need to get back to doing that. I am a kitchen witch at heart emoticon :smile: