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Celebrating Imbolc: Imbolc Food, Imbolc Traditions, and Imbolc Crafts
A Brief History on Imbolc & Imbolc Traditions
Imbolc is one of the eight sabbats (Pagan holidays) in the wheel of the year and occurs around February 2nd (though in the Old Calendar it was supposedly February 12th). The word Imbolc is actually thought by some to come from the word oimelc or "ewe's milk", while others believe it is directly referring to imbolg - "in the belly" - which refers to pregnant ewes. Imbolc has been an Irish tradition for centuries, possibly even thousands of years. It is many times in modern days referred to as Candlemas or St. Brigid's Day, and in ancient Celtic times in Ireland, Imbolc was a Pagan holiday celebrating the goddess Brigid in all her glory. It is also known as a fire festival, as fire is used in many ways to call forth and celebrate the rebirth of the sun.
Imbolc to me (and I believe also to my ancestors) represents the coming of Spring. The first signs of Spring start to burst forth from the earth. When I try to picture what my ancient ancestors did on Imbolc, I see a large fire rising into the sky, lighting up the darkness and cold surrounding it. The first break-through of winter and death into brand new life and hope for the sun's fully triumphant return. In Ireland and Scotland, February was a very brutal time weather-wise, but even with the harsh cold and frosts, Imbolc gave rise to sprinklings of green grass and baby lambs were beginning to be born. Imbolc represented hope in its entirety.
Brigid has been a main symbol of Imbolc since ancient Celtic times, and the Irish believed that Brigid was reborn on Imbolc...changing from her crone form (old-woman form), also called the Cailleach. Fires were lit in representation and celebration of the young Goddess' return to earth, and so fire has always been associated with Brigid in Ireland. This tied into the Catholic Church's conversion of Imbolc from a Pagan holiday into what they called Candlemas and Saint Brigid's Day (Brigid was one of the only Goddesses of ancient times that was turned into a Saint by the Church probably because the Irish people found her as one of their most beloved gods).
From the book "Celtic Inspirations" by Lyn Webster Wilde, an Imbolc ritual:
"Get up just before dawn, light a candle, let its flame purify you and then put it before a mirror. Gaze into the mirror. Relax and allow flickering flame to suggest images in your mind. They will tell you, in subtle ways, what is beginning to stir in you. Once the sky is light, go outside and welcome the new day."
Imbolc Food - Ideas & Recipes
Because Imbolc was a celebration of the milk that began to flow forth from the sheep, dairy is a huge recommendation and also a tradition for Imbolc meals. Cheeses, milk, butter, cream, and yogurt could all be incorporated into your Imbolc meal(s) - be it for Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner. Here are some simple and inexpensive ideas for all three meals that involve dairy:
Breakfast - Egg Omelette with cheese and a pitcher of organic milk or cream in coffee, yogurt on the side
Lunch - Grilled cheese sandwiches with home-made slices of bread
Dinner/Supper - Option 1: Cooked Ham, cheesy potatoes (or baked potatoes with shredded cheese) and sour cream & butter, and a leafy vegetable
Dinner/Supper - Option 2: Beer Cheese Soup & Braided Bread
Bread is also another great food to include in your Imbolc meals, as it is a traditional Imbolc food. Use it with your sandwiches for lunch and as a side or appetizer for Imbolc Dinner.
Here is a great recipe found online at paganwiccanabout.com:
Braided bread is found in many forms, in many cultures. This one is a simple one, and is perfect for serving at your Imbolc feast. The braid symbolizes Brighid in her aspect as the bride, representative of her fertility and position as a hearth goddess. Serve this tasty braided bread with warm butter for dipping.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- 3 loaves frozen bread dough, thawed (this is in the frozen foods section at the grocery store)
- 1 egg
- Sesame seeds
Allow the bread loaves to defrost at room temperature. Before it begins to rise, cut each loaf in half with a large pizza cutter or a knife. Roll each half out until it's about 18" long, and about an inch thick. You'll end up with six of these long strips.
Take three of the strips, and braid them together, trying not to stretch them out too much. When you've reached the end of the braid, tuck the ends underneath themselves. Repeat the process with the other three strips, making a second braid.
Place the braids either on a baking stone, or on a pan that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.
Beat the egg in a small bowl, and add 2 Tbsp. water. Lightly brush the egg and water mixture over the braids, and then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let them rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, or until a light golden brown color. Remove from baking sheet, and allow to cool for 15 minutes or more before serving.
** Note: if you want to really jazz this up, use different types of bread, such as white and wheat. The end result is visually very appealing, with the different colors braided together.
One of the most traditional and quite fun crafts is to make Brigid's Cross. The tradition of this Imbolc craft goes back to before Christianity when the Celtic people used the Cross to symbolize a crossroads in life and between worlds. Usually Brigid's Cross was made out of straw or some type of reed, so one should gather those type of materials in order to make a traditional Brigid's Cross as an Imbolc craft.
Brigid's Cross, though said to be associated with Saint Brigid, may date back to before Brigid was sanctified (back when she was indeed a Celtic Goddess). Brigid's Cross is said to guard one's home and property from destructive forces such as fire or negativity in general. Make Brigid's Cross on Imbolc this year and hang it in the front of your house (in your window or on your door) to guard against evil and celebrate Brigid's Day (in both of her forms as the Goddess and Saint). For detailed written instructions on how to make Brigid's Cross click here. You can also view the video for a visual tutorial.
Another cool idea for an Imbolc craft is to make a poppet filled with herbs representative of Imbolc or make a cut-out, stuffed lamb for a child.
© 2012 Nicole Canfield