Imbolc 2018

Celebrating Imbolc

I know I have written about Imbolc before, but it is the first of the festivals to appear in any year, and as such, it is an important point in the pagan calendar.

Imbolc is the Celtic festival which marks the beginning of the lambing season and the first stirrings of new life in the land. At this time of the year, all of nature is pregnant, and only just visible. The celebrations which surround Imbolc reflect this. It is not the flashy celebration of life which will come later, at Beltane. Instead, Imbolc celebrates the hope of new life and the welcome return of the light.

Imbolc is a time to let go of the past and look to the future. It is a reflective celebration, a turning inward to attempt to work out the thoughts and habits which no longer serve any practical purpose in your life. It is also a great time for spring-cleaning, although this is an aspect of the festival that I personally struggle with!

For those who want to identify the festivals with a specific deity, Imbolc is one of the great Fire Festivals held in honour of the Goddess Brigid (or Bride, Brigit, Brighit, and a host of other spellings). She was held in such esteem that the early Christians converted her into St Bridget rather than attempting to discredit the worship of her. She is a Goddess of healing, poetry, and smithcraft. She brings fertility to the land and its people, and as such is closely connected to both midwives and new-born babies. She is one of the Triple Goddess, appearing at Imbolc in the guise of the Maiden.

Imbolc Rituals

It is traditional to light every lamp in the house at sunset on Imbolc – even if only for a few moments. Alternatively, light candles in each room in honour of the rebirth of the Sun. If there is snow on the ground outside, walk in it for a moment, while summoning thoughts of the feel of summer.

Celebrate by having a simple meal of meat and dairy products, remembering that this is only the start of the bounty that this year will bring.

The Festival of Springtime

Ostara is one of the many names for the celebration of the spring equinox. It is said to come from the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess, Eostre, who was a goddess of spring and fertility. It is also close to the Christian celebration of Easter, and the Jewish festival of Passover.

It is not surprising that a celebration can be found at this time of year in almost every civilisation, fro ancient Persia and the Mayan civilizations to the more modern religion of Christianity. The turning of the Wheel of the Year is obvious, and the returning of life in the spring is too powerful a symbol not to be recognised.

Here are a few examples of how this exciting time of the year is celebrated around the world.

Marzanna – Poland

This is a celebration which dates back to around the middle of the 16th century. Dolls known as Marzanna are made of straw and decorated in order to symbolize the cold, dreary winter. They are then paraded through the street as crowds make their way to the nearest body of water. The decorated dolls are then thrown into the water in order to drown the wrath of the winter.

Baba Marta – Bulgaria

Baba Marta literally translates to ‘the grandmother of March’, and folklore says that Baba Marta is a cranky old lady who must be treated well and with kindness, or she will bring more cold, bleak winter days to torment the land.

In order to welcome the change of the season, people wear red and white bracelets which symbolise health and fertility. They hand out other red and white symbols to friends and family to wish them peace and happiness for the rest of the year.

Holi – India

The colourful festival of Holi takes place in late February or early March. The festival was originally a Hindu tradition, but it is now seen as more a cultural celebration than a religious one.

Holi ushers in the spring with bonfires and parties the night before the festival itself. The next day, people gather on the streets for a giant colour fight, with people through dyed powder onto each other. It offers a chance to let go of the cares and hardships of winter and to reconnect with other people.

Falles – Spain

The population of Valencia in Spain almost triples in size during the annual Falles festival in March. It is a week-long spectacle of fiery, satirical entertainment which starts with processions in order to honour Saint Joseph and ends with the mass burning of paper-mache figures filled with firecrackers.

It is not uncommon for those attending these celebrations to wear medieval clothing, and the entire week is accompanied by a huge street party.