Observed on the first and second of February, Imbolc is one of the four great Pagan sabbats; in honour of the emergence from winter, altars on this day are decorated with snowdrops, seen as the first herald of spring.
The Celtic words i mbolg mean ‘in the belly’, referring to the seasonal pregnancy of ewes, and another name for this festival is Oimelc, ‘ewe’s milk’. The festival is sacred to Bride*, the Celtic goddess of inspiration, healing, and metalcraft as well as patron of midwives. In addition to the traditions subsumed into the observance of Candlemas, the Church appropriated this observance more directly by demoting the goddess to mere human being: the first day of February is observed in the Catholic Church as the festival of “Saint Brigid” of Kildaire—also the patroness of smiths, midwives, and healers.
Imbolc traditions—like their Candlemas counterparts—centre around light and purification. Candles may be lit, and it is considered an appropriate time to cleanse the house, seek inspiration, and purify one’s mind of negativity. As a festival with associations to birthing and milking it is also a time to eat dairy foods.
|*Pronounced ‘Breed’; often spelled Bridhe, Brigid or Bridget.|