Imbolc and Candlemas Customs and Practices

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The Maiden is honored, as the Bride, on this Sabbat. Straw Brideo’gas (corn dollies) are created from oat or wheat straw and placed in baskets with white flower bedding. Young girls then carry the Brideo’gas door to door, and gifts are bestowed upon the image from each household. Afterwards at the traditional feast, the older women make special acorn wands for the dollies to hold, and in the morning the ashes in the hearth are examined to see if the magic wands left marks as a good omen. Brighid’s Crosses are fashioned from wheat stalks and exchanged as symbols of protection and prosperity in the coming year. Home hearth fires are put out and re-lit, and a besom is place by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. Candles are lit and placed in each room of the house to honor the re-birth of the Sun.

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Another traditional symbol of Imbolc is the plough. In some areas, this is the first day of ploughing in preparation of the first planting of crops. A decorated plough is dragged from door to door, with costumed children following asking for food, drinks, or money. Should they be refused, the household is paid back by having its front garden ploughed up. In other areas, the plough is decorated and then Whiskey, the “water of life” is poured over it. Pieces of cheese and bread are left by the plough and in the newly turned furrows as offerings to the nature spirits. It is considered taboo to cut or pick plants during this time.

Imbolc was celebrated by lighting sacred fires ( Brigit was the Goddess of Fire, the Fire of Healing and Birth). Bonfires and candles too were lit. Imbolc is variously known as the Feast of Saint Brigid (Secondary Patron of Ireland), Lá
Fhéile Bríde, and Lá Feabhra – the first day of Spring.
Ground Hogs Day is a simple celebration it is a time of weather predictions using our animal friends. America uses the Ground Hog, In Ireland and Wales it was the serpent and rabbit emerging from its burrows. The belief was that if Candlemas was clear and bright there would be six more weeks of winter weather.
The Roman Catholic Church turned this celebration into Candlemas, the day when the candles that were to be used in the church in the coming year were blessed.
Candlemas was celebrated with a festival of lights. In the dark and gloomy days of February, the shadowy recesses of medieval churches twinkled brightly as each member of the congregation carried a lighted candle in procession around the church, to be blessed by the priest. Afterwards, the candles were brought home to be used to keep away storms, demons and other evils. This custom lasted in England until it was banned in the Reformation for promoting the veneration of magical objects. Even so, the symbol of the lighted candles had too strong a hold on the popular imagination to be entirely cast aside. Traces of the festival lingered until quite recently in other areas of the British Isles like little lights that refused to be blown out. In Wales, Candlemas was known as Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau, Mary’s Festival of the Candles, and was celebrated as late as the 19th century by setting a lighted candle in the windows or at the table on this night. Special Candlemas carols were sung by singers who processed from house to house.