The second day of February is a big day in the liturgical calendar, although (alas!) most people don’t seen to realize that nowadays.
In ancient times for the Celtic world it was Imbolc, or the beginning of spring. It falls halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and the days are noticeably longer now than they were before Christmas. This was the Celtic New Year, based on the lunar calendar like Chinese New Year still is. It was also an important day for the pre-Christian Celtic goddess, Brigid.
Christianity, being a syncretic religion, just adapted the role of the goddess into the a saint, St. Brigid of Kildare. The saint and goddess both essentially perform the same functions: watching over babies, the home, and other female-centric things. More “manly” attributes of the goddess, like gifting poets and smiths, were elided from the saint.
St. Brigid is also associated with a distinctive cross:
Legend has it that:
A pagan chieftain from the neighbourhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived, the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked, his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptised at the point of death. Since then, the cross of rushes has existed in Ireland.
Of course, this shape also bears a strong resemblance to the ‘sun cross’ of pagan times, and probably pre-dates the Christianization of the goddess as her symbol. Many Anglicans and Catholics (espeically of Irish decent) still put a St. Brigid’s cross above their door to ask for protection and the blessing of their home to this day.
The day is also associated with weather predictions. If it is raining in your area, then spring will come early. If the morning is bright and sunny, you are in for some more wintery weather. This has been turned by Protestants into the rather tepid Groundhog Day. If the groundhog sees his shadow (it was sunny out) you’ll get six more weeks of winter. It was raining here in Southern Wales this morning, so I am hopeful of an early spring, Bride willing.
Finally, this day is also Candlemas. On this day, tradition has it, Mary went to be ‘purified’ forty days after the birth of Christ by giving a gift at the temple and presenting her new baby.
Christian mothers were to follow this example for centuries, being “churched” forty days after they had given birth. This was more often than not a time to celebrate the safe delivery and recovered health of the mother. It is also the OFFICAL end of Christmastide.
Seriously, it is a shame that in order to pressure people into spending more money, Advent has been all but abolished in favor of hectic pre-Christmas sales and events, and then when there is no more money to be made, the rest of the Christmas season is shunted to the side and forgotten. It would be more appropriate to put our Christmas decorations upon Christmas Eve, open presents on 12th night (night of 5 January), and just keep sing carols until Candlemas.
At any rate I hope everyone has a wonderful Imbolc/Brigid’s Day/Candlemas and my the Celtic New Year bring you nothing but peace and joy!