Imbolc is here, learn more about this Gaelic holiday

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. − Happy Imbolc! Never heard of this Gaelic holiday? Whether you're celebrating it for the first time this year or keeping up an old family tradition, here's more information on Imbolc and how to celebrate it.

What is Imbolc?

Imbolc, also called Saint Brigid's Day, is a Gaelic traditional festival that marks the beginning of spring, and is celebrated from Feb. 1-2. Imbolc is not only celebrated by people who follow one particular religion, as it can and has been celebrated by Christians, Pagans, Wiccans and Agnostic people who just want to welcome in the springtime.

Imbolc, in addition to marking the beginning of spring, is also a feast day for Saint Brigid who founded one of the most important monasteries in Ireland, that of Kildare. "Imbolc" means "in the belly of the Mother," referring to the seeds of spring that are beginning their growth on Mother Earth.

How Imbolc is celebrated

Brigid is the Celtic fire and fertility goddess, and was adapted to Christianity as St. Brigid. She is the patron saint of Irish nuns, newborns, midwives, dairy maids and cattle. Goddess Brigid and Saint Brigid are both known for being associated with milk, fire, the home and babies, according to "The Origins and Practices of Holidays: Imbolc, Setsubun, Lunar New Year" by Dhruti Bhagat.

Celtic people would originally celebrate Imbolc by crafting straw dolls of the Goddess Brigid. According to Bhagat, children would also carry the doll door-to-door and give gifts at each household. Bonfires were lit and feasts were held to honor Brigid.

In the modern day, feasts can still be held in Brigid's name, especially when dairy foods and breads are involved. Spring-cleaning the home as part of getting ready for spring is also typically involved.

West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis has family in Ireland, and he contacted them on behalf of the Journal & Courier to learn more about how Imbolc is celebrated today.

West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis and his wife Mary in Ireland.
West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis and his wife Mary in Ireland.

"Carmel (said) 'It's just a bank holiday,'" Dennis said, quoting his sister-in-law, Carmel Drohan, who lives in Ireland. "And I said, 'OK, define a bank holiday.' (And Drohan said) 'People have the day off of work and they usually celebrate it by going to mass.'

"It sort of lines up with the summer solstice," Dennis said. "And they pray for the winter to end."

Brigid's Day parades have been known to be celebrated in the town of Killorglin, County Kerry. There, people weave and wear straw hats and masks and visit public houses carrying a doll of Brigid to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune for the coming year.

An American holiday connection

In America, Groundhog Day is celebrated on Feb. 2 each year. This is reported to have some roots with Imbolc, in that weather divination is practiced to determine the arrival of spring.

Whether you decide to make a traditional meal in honor of Imbolc, celebrate old fashioned Groundhog's Day or something in between, hopefully you now know more about the roots of this non-denominational holiday meant to bring in spring as soon as possible.

Margaret Christopherson is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email her at mchristopherson@jconline.com and follow her on Twitter @MargaretJC2.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Imbolc may become a new tradition in your family starting this year