The Celtic Festival of Imbolc

There are four significant seasonal festivals in the Celtic calendar and all centre around important times in nature and farming, heralding the beginning of new seasons and all the new activities that ensue.

Today is the Celtic festival of Imbolc, celebrated on the first of February through to sunset on the second. Falling between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, Imbolc marks the halfway point in the dark side of the year and welcomes the start of Spring with hopes for longer, brighter days ahead.

The name itself, "Imbolc" is said to be derived from the old Irish for "in the belly" or "ewe's milk". These associations with birth and fertility at this time of the year are also evident in the rituals involved in celebrating Imbolc such as lighting fires to symbolise the lighter, warmer days ahead and the growing strength of the sun after months of cold and darkness.

It is the feast day of Brigid or Brigit, a goddess of health, fertility, poetry, prophecy, learning, hearth fire and smithcraft. Brigid is featured in many Irish myths and legends. She was said to have been a daughter of the Daghda, the wife of Bres, the mother of Ruadan and stories often tell of her having two sisters. 

St Brigid of Kildare was a nun and abbess who lived before St Patrick. Some think that St Brigid of Kildare and Brigid the aforementioned goddess are one and the same, adapted by missionaries to bridge the gap between Christianity and paganism. 

Other key dates in the Celtic calendar are; Beltane which falls on the first of May, welcoming the warmth and strength of the summer sun and hopes for the imminent ripening of crops. It is followed by Lughnasad or Lughnasa on the first of August, when people would gather to celebrate the start of the harvest season.

Samhain falls on the last day of October and the first day of November. It denotes the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter and has been transformed into the modern day Hallowe'en. 

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