Today is the Celtic festival of Imbolc, traditionally 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. It is a celebration filled with hope for the 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" and it marked the time of year when the milking of the ewes would start. Rituals involved in celebrating Imbolc included lighting fires to symbolise the growing strength of the sun after months of cold and darkness.
Imbolc 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. She was born in Leinster around 450 and was the only female patron saint of Ireland. 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. The St Brigid's cross, a symbol of good fortune mainly made of woven straw or rushes, would traditionally be displayed in doorways, windows or stables during Imbolc. This would bring blessing and protection for the year ahead.