Sunday, February 2, 2014

Signs of Love: Imbolc

(Originally posted on the online religious news magazine, Creedible.) 

Photo by Sonja Bannick
The energy of this time of year is hard to describe. Winter holiday festivities are long past, and it seems like there is nothing to look forward to for the next few months. It’s the end of winter and beginning of spring, but that doesn’t always make sense. Some cities haven’t even gotten cold yet and the bulbs are already popping up, while other places are still buried under many feet of snow with no hope for blooms or sunlight. 
Imbolc, celebrated on the second of February, is the ancient Irish holiday that commemorates this in-between time. Originally a festival celebrating ewes’ milk, this was the time of year that pregnant sheep started lactating, which meant it was a good time to make cheese. Most people, though, have never even seen a ewe, let alone any other type of lactating livestock. Although ancient Ireland is worlds away from the contemporary United States, Imbolc still holds important lessons for everyone.

It’s still cold outside, or if it’s not cold, it’s still grey and brown and dreary. Because of the blustery weather, this is a good festival to spend with the family, focusing on hearth and home. It is a good time of year to start working on spring cleaning and to start thinking of the tasks and projects that need to be done once spring is fully here. 

While Yule is a fire festival that is bright and dynamic and exciting, Imbolc, while still a festival of flames, is more quiet and reflective. It’s a good time to sit in front of the fireplace, or in front of a flickering candle, and focus on arts, crafts and other creative projects that you enjoy doing. 

Many of us have no idea how our food gets from the farm to our homes, but Imbolc might be a good time to honor livestock and crops even if we don’t have any of our own. Traditional holiday foods are milk and cheese, so treat your family to something local, organic, free range and delicious. 

Some Catholics may know this holiday as Candlemass, or perhaps St. Brigid’s Day. Brigid is a clear example of an ancient Pagan goddess who was reinterpreted by Christians and given a whole new life and story. Flames and creativity are sacred to Brigid, who may be related to a northern goddess who predicted winter by the length of the shadows. Bright, sunny weather on Candlemass meant she could gather lots of extra firewood for a prolonged winter. 

February for many is still the winter, but the tradition of Groundhog’s Day has its roots in the ancient Pagan world when people would look to nature for omens to see just how long winter would last. Maybe the groundhog isn’t afraid of his shadow on February second, but rather the cold weather the winter goddess promises to bring in February!

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