Imbolc

01 February is also known as Imbolc in the old Celtic pagan calendar and is particularly associated with the Celtic goddess Brigid, or St Bridget’s as she became known after Ireland became Christianised. It is a Celtic cross quarter day – one of four important fire festivals.

Quarter and Cross Quarter Days

Throughout the British Isles, the old agricultural year was split into four quarter or cross quarter days, depending on where you lived. On these dates there were often fairs where servants would be hired, rents would be due and the day would often be associated with a religious festival.

In England and Wales, the quarter days are mostly associated with growing crops and fall as follows:

  1. Lady Day (25th March)
  2. Midsummer Day (24 June)
  3. Michaelmas (29 September)
  4. Christmas (25 December)

In Ireland a different set of days are celebrated, and as they fall almost exactly between the English quarter days, so they are known as ‘cross quarter days’. With the predominance of pasture and livestock in Irish culture, these dates follow the livestock calendar, marking the dates animals would be born, put out to pasture, sold or slaughtered and include:

  1. Imbolc (01 Feb) also known as Candlemas
  2. Beltane (01 May)
  3. Lughnasada (01 August)
  4. Samhain (01 November)

I have written a little about these days before, click on the link to learn more.

In Celtic societies, the new day starts at sundown on the day before when a sacred fire would be ceremonially lit, so the above festivals actually traditionally fall across two dates eg 31st Jan/01Feb for Imbrolc. Traditionally this marked the first day of spring as it is associated with the onset of ewes lactation prior to the lambing season. The day was dedicated to the goddess Brigid (who later evolved into St Bridget) one of the most powerful of the Tuatha Dé Danann (The people of the Goddess Danu)

Brigid was one of the most important deities in the Celtic world, her reach extended from the north of Scotland to Brittany in France and extended at least as far back as the Picts who named the Bruide Throne after her; each King would then also be given a Bruide name – as a male manifestation of the female goddess.

Imbolc, traditions and folklore 01 February, Losing the Plot - Image of a spring lamb on green grass under blue sky and clouds
Imbolc is particularly associated with getting ready for lambing season

Traditions associated with Imbolc

  1. Blessing rushes (pulled by the household’s youngest female) and making a Brigid crosse
  2. Putting out food and drink for Brigid on Her eve (such as buttered bread, milk, grains, seeds) – she was goddess of livestock and fertility
  3. Chair by hearth decorated by women; young woman carries in first flowers, greens, and a candle she was also goddess of fire and the hearth.
  4. Opening the door and welcoming Her into the home. “Bride! Come in, thy bed is made! Preserve the House for the Triple Goddess!” Scottish Gaelic Invocation: “May Brigit give blessing to the house that is here; Brigit, the fair and tender,Her hue like the cotton-grass, Rich-tressed maiden of ringlets of gold.”
  5. Brigid’s Bed (Scotland): Putting grain effigy and a phallic wand in a basket next to the hearth/candles at night and chanting three times: “Brigid is Come! Brigid is Welcome!”
  6. Torchlit processions circling fields to purify & invigorate for the coming growing season (Celtic, Pagan)
  7. Lighting & blessing of candles (11th century, Christian)

Brigid has three aspects; fire, livestock and the third is inspiration for the arts, this is a traditional rhyme associated with predicting the weather


If Candlemas day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas day be shower and rain, Winter is gone and will not come again. (Traditional)

Do you have any days with a particular tradition that you still celebrate?

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24 comments

  1. I know I’m English and by definition an idiot but when I say this quickly it sounds like my uncle admitting he’s drunk as in I’m bollocked. Could that be the derivation of the name? Ted like Guinness and Jamesons so he was 3 parts Irish. Most of the time.

    Liked by 3 people

    • All of the cross quarter days are looking forward, Samhain looks towards winter, but 31st Oct still feels like autumn. Imbolc is specific though, it’s the time when a sheep’s udder begins to swell before it eventually gives birth. A few of my friends growing up lived on sheep farms, they would frequently be off school to help with lambing any time from mid Feb onwards – in all weather.
      I was going to say that’s the difference between livestock and horticulture, but I noticed that the buds on my daffodils at the front door are really swollen and it won’t be long till they are in flower! So spring is on its way despite low temperatures

      Liked by 2 people

  2. There are lots of days we celebrate with different traditions because of my Sikh background.
    Recently we had Lohri on 13th January.
    It marks the beginning of the financial year for the Punjabi farmers, and the turn of the weather. Also. It is traditionally a day to celebrate and welcome new brides and babies from the previous year.
    A fire is lit and rhymes are sung, throwing handfuls of sesame seeds into the flames.
    For many years families only tended to celebrate a boys birth… Though if the origins are researched, the day is more woman-centric. Typical Indian mentality, giving boys all the importance!
    However changes have started and many families celebrate the birth of all babies now, with joy 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ritu that is really interesting! Back at Halloween – Samhain, I discovered a link between Celtic & Indian tradition, particularly with fire festivals and I can see that there are similarities here with this one too! Because Imbolc literally means ‘in the womb’ so that totally fits with celebrating birth, scattering seeds, and the sacred fire parallel is there too!

      Fascinating!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Sonia, this is the sort of information a non-local wouldn’t find in the tourist brochures. The best information we ever have received is from locals stopping to chat with us, might have something to do with our aura “another oldie with that vacant lost look about them”!! 🙂 Makes me think this sort of information.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sounds better than Groundhog Day which is what was “celebrated” this weekend in the States. As to say it is on the calendar and a few folks in one state watch to see if a ground hog pokes its head out of the ground to predict how much longer we’ll have winter. Considering it’s snowing right now for the first time this entire winter, I think it’s safe to say we have awhile until spring!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is really interesting (I somehow have never heard of the majority of these days!) I love the way different cultures still seem to have festivals at similar times of year.

    Imbolc is about the same time as Setsubun in Japan. Over there people have a big spring clean, then chase the devil (normally the dad with a devil mask!) by throwing beans at them…then everyone eats maki sushi. It’s one of my favourite Japanese holiday festivals. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! Never heard of that! The cleaning ritual also figures here and the throwing of beans seems a bit similar to what Ritu was talking about with the throwing of seeds.

      I suspect that if you go far enough back some of these days may have had a common ancestor

      Liked by 1 person

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