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What is Imbolc and How is it Related to Saint Brigid’s Day?

What Is Imbolc

Imbolc, or Imbolg, is an ancient Celtic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. This date also marks Saint Brigid’s Day, is a Gaelic traditional festival celebrated throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Some historians believe that the celebration of this day date back to the Neolithic period.

In Scottish folklore, Beira, sometimes known as the Cailleach, is the goddess of winter. She can cause a frost simply by banging her staff on the ground. She lives in the icy northern kingdom where she is holding a young woman captive, Bride or Brigid. One day Beira sends Brigid down to a frozen stream with a brown cloak, instructing her to ‘wash it white’.

Alas, poor Brigid cannot, and in a moment of despair she is rescued by Father Winter who not only turns the cloak white but present s Brigid with a bunch of snowdrops. Upon her return, Beira becomes enraged as these symbols are a sign that her own power is waning. She thus sets off across the land, banging her staff and bringing frost and snowfall wherever she goes.

It is said that the lesson from this tale is to appreciate that despite the early signs of spring, the winter may not be yet be over. As the old saying goes, flowers that bloom too quickly are fair game for a late frost.

See also What Is Candlemas Day?

What Are The Pagan Origins of Imbolc?

Imbolc is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with: Bealtaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain. It falls  halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and has historically been associated with the lambing season and the goddess Brigid.

Brigid, Brigit or Bríg (meaning 'exalted one') is a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland. She appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the daughter of the Dagda and wife of Bres, with whom she had a son named Ruadán.

It is believed that the etymology of Imbolc or Imbolg may come from Oimelc, the ancient Irish word for ‘the beginning of spring’ which itself is thought to be derived from the word oi-melg (Modern Irish: i mbolg), meaning ‘ewe’s milk’ or ‘in the belly’, and refers to the pregnancy of ewes at this time of year and the imminence of the lambing season.

This celebration is in honour of the Celtic Fire Goddess Brigid, who is the patroness of smithing, healing, midwifery, and poetry. It is the festival of the Maiden because from this day she begins her preparation for rejuvenation until March 21st, the first day of Spring.

How is Imbolc Celebrated?

Part of the celebrations on Imbolc is to make Straw Brideo’gas (corn dollies), from oat or wheat straw. The dollies are then put in baskets with white flowers and bedding. The Brideo’gas is then carried by young girls as they deliver presents to the image from each home. Next the customary feast, the elder women craft unique acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and the following morning, the ashes in the fireplace are investigated to see if any signs of good fortune were left by the magic wands.

Saint Brigid’s Day or Imbolc is traditionally a time for weather prognostication:

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.
The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bríde,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

Wheat stalks are fashioned into Brighid’s Crosses, which are then traded as signs of safety and wealth for the upcoming year. In order to represent putting out the old and bringing in the new, home hearth fires are extinguished and relit, and a besom is placed by the front door. To celebrate the Sun’s rebirth, candles are lit and set up throughout the house.

On St. Brigid’s Eve, Brigid was rumoured to visit people’s homes. People would prepare a bed for Brigid, provide her food and drink, and place clothing outside for her to bless in exchange for their blessings.

The day was usually marked by visiting holy wells and enjoying a special meal, this day was historically associated with weather legends. It is believed that the making of Brigid’s crosses, which are hung over doors and windows, is a defence against evil spirits, disease, and fire for the coming year. 

Christian Transformation of Imbolc

Brigit the saint and her feast day are now commonly accepted as being Christianizations of the pre-existing Pagan and Celtic festivals. This history is now widely recognised as there has been a recent resurgence of Celtic neopagans and Wiccans

According to historians, the pagan goddess Brigid and the saint of the same name in Christianity were combined. Christian monks “adopted the ancient character of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart,” Brigid of Kildare, according medievalist Pamela Berger.

The Christian faith was known to have incorporated many of the Pagan festivals and in February the coming spring is marked by St. Brigid’s Day on the 1st of February, and Candlemas on the 2nd of February.

From 2023, “Imbolc/St Brigid’s Day” will be a yearly public holiday in the Republic of Ireland.

I have been using this little book The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2023 while writing a series of articles on Ancient Ways. I buy this book every year and each edition is different from the last. While is is based on the UK season it is still a fascinating read and is always informative in ways you would never expect!

Lia Leendertz’s reinvention of the traditional, rural almanac has become an annual must-have for readers keen to reconnect with the seasons, appreciate the outdoors, and discover ways to mark and celebrate each month, and the ideal stocking filler. The 2023 edition is the sixth in the series, and has a theme of the solar system and zodiac, with beautiful illustrations by artist Whooli Chen.

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Jessie LV

Jessie LV is a professional writer in a wide array of genres including content writing, professional writing and creative writing. She foundered Donc Voilà Quoi while living in Tours, France in 2015 when she fell in love with the phrase. When she isn't writing you'll find her out and about in nature, watching whodunit's or cooking up a storm. For writing inquiries please email on

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