Friday, 1 February 2013


Today is Imbolg. 
A friend I met by chance on the headland this morning told me that literally the word means 'in the belly'.
As in fecund, I presume.
But of course Imbolg's meaning is much greater than that.
It is St Brigid's Day - it is the First Day of Spring, and was - so another friend told me - a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brighid long before it had saintly overtones.
Is it not ever thus?

Not being Irish, or a Gaelic speaker, or even Catholic- and meaning no disrespect whatsoever to any of those - to my Philistine ears, it is a curiously unromantic name for a very beautiful day.

I much prefer the name Candlemas, which is the Christian Festival widely celebrated tomorrow.
One of the common names by which the snowdrop was known in England was the Candlemas Lily, or Candlemas Bells, and I often think that is a quaint and pleasing description. They are also called Fair Maids of February, another fitting name.

Candlemas Bells

Candlemas was a day for celebrating light - it is when candles were brought to be blessed, and many European countries mark it in some way, or used to do so. In France they make crepes, but then, in France, any excuse is good enough for making crepes, and who can blame them?
In Spain they have a feast.

To me, it doesn't really matter whether Imbolg or Candlemas came first, or whether one is merely the 'sanitisation' of the other by the Christian church, or even if the two are completely unrelated.
As far as I'm concerned, the day has more to do with being in touch with the world around us. Marking the first, beautiful flowers of spring; rejoicing in the two extra minutes of light that each day brings, which suddenly, in early February, really make a difference; relishing the growing warmth of the sunshine, the deepening blue of the sky, the extra eggs appearing in my hen-house. Giving thanks that the longest, and darkest stretch of the winter is behind and the year, ripe with potential, is opening up ahead of us.

Snowdrops bringing their own sunshine to my windowsill

According to folklore, Candlemas is when the badger pokes his head out to see whether he feels like waking up yet (a tradition which seems to have been encompassed by Groundhog day in America).
It could become known as Badger's Day.
Although, in view of the imminent - and, according to much scientific opinion, pointless - destruction of so many of our badgers, the day might come to signify something mind-bogglingly appalling - a badger equivalent of the St Valentine's Day Massacre.

Perhaps we should leave it as it is, and keep on picking our snowdrops and, on this side of the water at least, making rush crosses.

My gorgeous French visitor put everyone to shame   Photo courtesy Beltra Country Market

Last Saturday, at Beltra Country Market a friend showed anyone who was interested how to make St Brigid crosses. It was a terrific morning, and I - like many others - now have one hanging on my door. In years gone by the boys used to make them at school and I would take down last year's and hang up the two new ones, but it has been many moons since I've seen one, and I've never made one before.
No one seems to know which of the Irish Bridgets first started making the crosses, but apparently they are traditionally put on the door to protect the house and all who dwell therein from fire and evil.
And to instill hope for the year to come.

Consider it instilled.

As the rushes dry, the ties have to be tightened.


  1. St Brigid's Day is a big feast in these parts.
    I never knew when Candlemas was and I love those other names for snowdrops - so poetic.

  2. Lovely blog, however, I feel never let anyone else's neat looking cross "put you to shame". If someone focuses on the craft of making the cross then the chances of placing the prayer, wish or meditation in could be watered down. Every cross made is valid and equal no matter how good or bad it may look under critique. The importance, for me, is the honesty and purity of the prayer, meditation or wish woven into it.

  3. I too like Maids of February, and fitting as our snowdrops have jsut appeared in the last couple of days. Funnily enough, I poted a photo of the spire of St Bride's Fleet Street on my page yuesterday.


Ah, go on! Make my day - leave a comment!