Imbolc is a festival marking the beginning of Spring, usually celebrated February 1st or halfway between Yule and Ostara. It is one of the four seasonal festivals (Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain) and is celebrated with a special feast, divination, spring cleaning, and protection invocations. Weather divination is popular, which may be due to a Gaelic legend. Cailleach, a divine hag, is said to have the ability to make winter last longer and if the weather is good on Imbolc she is gathering firewood for the rest of winter. If the weather is bad, she is asleep and winter is almost over. Similar to the North American custom of Groundhog Day where we watch to see if the groundhog sees his shadow.
Imbolc is often seen as a “Woman’s Holiday” since the Goddess Brigid, the fertility Goddess, is heavily associated with the holiday and many Covens have specific rites for female only members, including initiations. It is often common practice to make a bed and leave food for Brigid in order for her to bless and protect their home. Families would often have a special meal on Imbolc Eve and some of the meal, including beverage, would be left for Brigid. Scraps of clothing or fabric are left outside for her to bless. The clothing or fabric left outside would then have the powers of protection and healing.
The holiday is not only a celebration of the onset of spring, but is a festival of the hearth and home. Bonfires and candles are lit, or hearthfires, to purify and to represent the power that will bring the people from the dark part of the year to the light. Holy wells are often visited and visitors would pray for health while walking “sunwise” around the well and leave offerings of coins. Water from the well was taken and used to bless the home, the family, the fields, and any animals.
Children and young women would make Brigid’s crosses or little doll, known as a Brideog and was made of rushes or reeds and was dressed in clothing with shells or flowers decorating it. The dolls were carried by young women around town and went door to door asking for food for Brigid or decorations for their dolls. The Brigid’s crosses were made of rushes woven into a square or equilateral cross. The crosses were hung over doors, windows, barns, stables, etc to bless and protect them.