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