Imbolc is one of the four principal festivals of the Irish calendar, celebrated among Gaelic peoples and some other Celtic cultures either at the beginning of February or at the first local signs of Spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on February 2, since this is the cross-quarter day on the solar calendar, halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere. Originally dedicated to the goddess Brigid, in the Christian period, it was adopted as St Brigid’s Day. In Scotland, the festival is also known as Là Fhèill Brìghde, in Ireland as Lá Fhéile Bríde, and in Wales as Gwyl Ffraed. Another holiday deriving from Imbolc was Candlemas Day and is celebrated on February 2 (Groundhog Day). The Catholic Church replaced Imbolc with Candlemas Day on February 2, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and features candlelight processions. Candlemas is the feast of Mary’s purification and is marked by a candle procession. The ties between purification rituals and the month of February also hark back to the pagan era. Indeed, our very word, “February,” which derives from Latin, unmistakably designates the month as a time for purification (februa means “expiatory offerings”). The Lupercalia, a pagan Roman purification ritual, took place in February.
According to the old English saying:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.