The Fire Festival of Brighid and the Origins of Candlemas
As the first festival of spring, this pagan sabbat heralds the dwindling of winter and the coming of warmth and new life, celebrating the Celtic fire goddess Brighid.
Imbolc falls at the beginning of February. Some sources state the official day as February 1st, while others prefer the 2nd. According to Cassandra Eason in her book The Modern Day Druidess (Piatkus, 2003), “Imbolc is celebrated from sunset on 31st January to sunset on 2nd February”, while others shy away from calendar constraints altogether and mark the festival when the first snowdrops and crocuses start to blossom, as they signify the first emergence of spring. In the Southern hemisphere, Imbolc falls on July 31st.
What Does Imbolc Mean?
Imbolc literally means “in the belly of the mother”, while its original Celtic name, Oimelc, translates as “ewe’s milk” or “the feast of ewe’s milk”. Both refer to the turning of winter to spring, as marked by the first milk of ewes as lambs begin to be born. Other names for this sabbat include Gwyl Fair and the Feast of Pan.
Why Celebrate Imbolc?
Imbolc is the special day of Brighid, the Celtic goddess of fire, and thus is deemed a fire festival. Its transformative powers of the flame signify change and the setting of new goals. As the Crone of winter gives way to the Maiden of spring, this festival of light cleanses to make way for the new. Nature starts to come back to life, and the new agricultural season begins.
Who Celebrates Imbolc?
Imbolc is a pagan festival, celebrated by witches, druids and other pagans as part of the wheel of the year. It is traditionally a time for new witches and druids to be initiated into the Craft, falling in with its association of change and dedication to new goals.
There are many Imbolc rituals and celebrations, including the custom of what has come to be known as spring-cleaning. Now is the time to begin thoroughly cleaning the house inside and out, as well as conducting a house blessing to remove any negative energies or spirits left over from winter.
What is the Difference Between Imbolc and Candlemas?
Many people will know this time of year as Candlemas. As with most Christian festivals, it has its origins in paganism. The Church put many of their own festivals in place of pagan ones, to encourage easier conversion to Christianity. Candlemas falls on February 2nd, marking the day when Mary returned to her people, cleansed after the ritual period following the birth of Jesus, 40 days after his birth.
Honouring Brighid at Imbolc
Many pagans work with Brighid to focus intent on their resolutions for the coming year, as well as welcoming in changes. Burning a white candle and crafting Brighid’s crosses are some of the rituals associated with this goddess. It is customary to leave a piece of cloth outside the front door on the eve of February 1st; if it has been marked in the morning, then Brighid has passed by and blessed it.
Ways to Celebrate Imbolc
Cleansing the home, preparing for the coming year, hands-on healing and enjoying a seasonal Imbolc feast are some of the ways in which this festival is celebrated. Traditional Imbolc foods such as bread, milk and apples will be included in special meals, and practitioners of magic may cast spells for change or meditate within a circle of candles to absorb the light of the new season.
The weather may still be wintry, but with the promise of spring around the corner, inspiration, creativity and fresh energy will once again begin to flourish.
(Above taken from here where there is more information, if you're interested).