The first holiday of the Celtic year, Imbolc falls on February 1. Some practitioners prefer to celebrate on February 2, or Candlemas, but I prefer February 1 as the Sabbat day as well. If you will notice, all the other cross-quarter Sabbats fall on the first day of the month, or the eve before; this is because the Celtic days were counted from sunset to sunset, instead of sunrise to sunrise. I feel that rituals should be held on the eve of the Sabbat, and that a public festival should be held on the Sabbat day.
Imbolc is the first fertility festival of the year and is symbolic of the time when the ewes come into milk. Cattle usually give birth at the end of the winter season, and goats always seem to have their kids on the coldest night of the year. This holiday represents the union of winter and spring – the first stirrings of consciousness in a cold and slumbering world. This is the time when we sweep out the old, so that new may enter. In Europe, one way Imbolc was celebrated was with a torchlight procession; this flame magickally purified and fertilized the fields before the seed-planting season.
The birth of the Young King occurs right after the Winter Solstice, and by the time of Imbolc he is a young lad. This holiday is when the Young King is to be named and armed. The role of the Goddess is still ambiguous: some choose to honor her in the aspect of the Mother of the Young King, others honor her as the Crone Goddess of Winter.
Ste. Bride (Brigit, Briid, Brede, Bridget) is the most commonly worshiped goddess on this holiday. She is lady of the home and hearth, and candles are kept burning all night in her honor. Another European custom is that of Brigit’s bed. Before retiring on Imbolc Eve, a corn dolly is made and placed upon a small bed. The dolly is covered with a handkerchief, and an invitation is made to the goddess Brigit to come and spend the night. Modern rituals often include the wearing of a crown of candles, and the ceremonial “sweeping out” of the circle.
Enjoy, we’re halfway through winter!