Imbolc was a Celtic festival traditionally celebrated around 1 February. It was one of four major festivals, the others being Bealtaine (May), Lughnasa (August) and Samhain (October / Halloween).
If January feels like the longest month of the year, the one bright spot is that the long dark nights of winter are beginning shorten. By St Brigid’s Day on 1 February, there is usually a noticeable extension in daylight hours and the beginnings of Spring are in the air.
Traditionally, the Imbolc Celtic festival heralded the beginning of Spring and was associated with the Crone goddess giving way to the maiden.
The word ‘imbolc’ translates as ‘in the bag’ or ‘in the belly’ and, not surprisingly, is associated with fertility.
Interestingly, it’s not entirely clear whether Brigid is a Celtic goddess or a Christian saint. She’s strongly associated with Christianity and given the credit for founding the first monastery in Kildare. Born in 450 AD, she was a contemporary of St Patrick who arrived in Ireland in 432 and along with St Patrick and Columba, Brigid is regarded as a patron saint of Ireland.
In Christian lore Brigid is associated with the St Brigid’s cross – a simple cross made from rushes or straw – that children are often taught to make in craft classes. Traditionally, the St Brigid’s cross was hung in a byre where it was believed to protect the livestock.
In Celtic tradition, Brigid is linked to a goddess associated with poetry, healing and fertility.
While Imbolc is no longer celebrated as a festival in Ireland, St Brigid is remembered and the St Brigid Cross will be found for sale in many tourist shops.