“Imbolc” is from Old Irish, and may mean “in the belly”, and Oimelc, “ewe’s milk”, as this is the lambing time. This is considered the first of spring. In Ireland the first stirrings of spring are said to be witnessed by the first lambing of the ewes . Ewes are unable to produce milk until after they bear their young, which occurs at this time. Since milk was very important to the basic survival of the tribes, this was a time of great joy. It meant that the end of a long winter was in sight, and green pastures were only a few months away. The ground may be ready to plow for the first time soon after this day in parts of Ireland (but all we can hope for is a bit of a temporary thaw). Fisher-men would begin preparing their gear to go out, farmers would make sure their plows and other tools were in good working order; warriors, likewise, their weapons. This was a time of prepara-tion for one’s summer activities, what ever they may be. It was also a time to check one’s food stores, to see if they would last the rest of the season for there was still little fresh food for some time.
There was little traveling done and there were no great festivals held to celebrate it. This holiday was celebrated within the local village, which may also mean that its rituals were even more diverse than any others throughout the island. Travel was hazardous during this time, not so much for the cold but for the darkness. Like the Winter Solstice celebration of the continental Indo-Europeans, it was an important celebration in that the hope of spring must be celebrated or depression will overtake the people.
The holiday is also called ‘Brigit’s Day’, in honor of the great Irish Goddess Brigit, whose threefold nature rules smithcraft, poetry/inspiration, and healing. Brigit’s holiday was chiefly marked by the kindling of sacred fires, since she symbolized the fire of birth and healing, the fire of the forge, and the fire of poetic inspiration. Bonfires were lighted on the beacon tors, and chandlers celebrated their special holiday.
Februum is a Latin word meaning purification, naming the month of cleansing. The thaw releases waters (Brigid is also a goddess of holy wells) — all that was hindered is let flow at this season. At Imbolc, Brighid was pregnant with the seed of the Sun. She was ripe with the promise of new life, as the seeds of the earth deep within its soil begin to awaken at this time, ripe with the promise of Spring, new life for the planet. Thus Inbolc was a time of awakening, promise and hope for the coming spring.
Feasts would be held, perhaps including fresh lamb; this might be the first fresh meat since early Winter, unless boredom had forced some out in the
cold and darkness to hunt. Bonfires are not connected with this day as with the others, although the household hearthfires may have been dedicated to
the Goddess Brighid and some rituals may have involved a blessing or relight-ing of the hearthfires. Ceremonies would mark the arrival of spring, focusing on the hope of the new season. It was customary to pour milk (or cream) onto the earth. This was done in thanksgiving, as an offering of nurturing, and to
assist in the return of fertility and generosity of the earth to its people (the return of Spring). Imbolc was celebrated in honor of Brighid or Brid (pronounced
breed), also known as Brigid, Brigit, or Bride, in her maiden aspect. Brighid is the daughter of Dagda.
The Roman Church was quick to confiscate this symbolism of fire as well, using ‘Candlemas’ as the day to bless all the church candles that would be used for the coming liturgical year. (Catholics will be reminded that the following day, St. Blaise’s Day, is remembered for using the newly-blessed candles to bless the throats of parishioners, keeping them from colds, flu, sore throats, etc.). ‘Candlemas’ is the Christianized name for the holiday (February 2), The Catholic Church, never one to refrain from piling holiday upon holiday, also called it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (It is surprising how many of the old Pagan holidays were converted to Maryan Feasts.) The symbol of the Purification may seem a little obscure to modern readers, but it has to do with the old custom of ‘churching women’. It was believed that women were impure for six weeks after giving birth. And since Mary gave birth at the winter solstice, she wouldn’t be purified until February 2nd. In Pagan symbolism, this might be re-translated as when the Great Mother once again becomes the Young Maiden Goddess. For centuries the church observed this day in veneration of child bearing. It has been a celebraion since the 5th century when it was the Roman celebration of Februa – when candles were carried through the streets and purifacation rites were observed by women.
The feast was taken over by St. Brighid, although it has clear links to her Pagan predecessor. Young people would go from door to door at least in Christian times, usually masking as the Saint (often called “Biddies”), and there is reason to suspect that this had Pagan origins. This recalls the Samhain trick-or-treating and included a blessing on the households, but most likely only those that properly offered hospitality perhaps the most important tenant of Celtic culture, Christian or Pagan.
February 14, St.Valentines Day, this was the eve of the Roman Lupercalia – a festival of youth – when young people chose their sweethearts by lottery.
The Lenten Fast, this name was derived from the Saxon lenct word meaning spring, and in earlier times this period may have been a time of enforced fasting as the winter stores ran low
Rebirth at Easter, the English name for this festival is derived from Eostre, a northern goddess of spring. The rebirth of growing things in spring after the long winter was a time of rejoicing in the Pagan world.Symbolically the egg was a sign of rebirth to the Pagans.
April 1, April Fools Day,There are possible links with Lud, the Celtic god of humour whos festival was during spring although the exact origins are unknown.