Imbolc is a cross-quarter festival celebrated by Wiccans, Druids and Pagans of Celtic Hearth traditions. Imbolc takes place halfway through the Winter Solstice (commonly celebrated as Yule) and the Spring Equinox (often celebrated as Ostara.), right around the first of February.

Many witches skip Imbolc, especially if they don't follow a Celtic pantheon and/or do not belong to a group that celebrates all the Sabbats regularly. It occurs right in the middle of the season and, depending where you live, doesn't tend to have the "turning point" feel of the other Sabbats. And maybe we haven't all recovered financially (or emotionally) from the Yuletide holidays yet. But Imbolc is a celebration after a Kitchen Witches heart. All you need to do is find an aspect of Imbolc that resonates with you and build your own family tradition about it.

Building Your Imbolc Tradition

There are diverse traditions associated with this festival. The tradition your family honors may differ from that highlighted by your local public ritual or even your own coven and that's okay. While there are many different traditions, they hardly conflict. It would be a mistake to attempt to honor all traditions associated with Imbolc at once. You could end up burnt out and discouraged and your family may come to dread the holiday rather than look forward to it.

Imbolc as the Feast of Brigid/Brid

If you honor Brigid as your Hearth Goddess, then celebrating Imbolc as the Feast of Brigid is a no-brainer. You can make your celebration as simple as giving her altar as clean up and cooking and offering Her favorite foods, or you can go go more elaborate and tradtional

The Bride'og

Pronounced BREE jog, the Bride'og or Little Brid, is a small doll dressed in white to represent the Goddess. The doll is traditionally made by the man/men of the house and traditional materials vary. I am told that a butter churn in a white gown served our ancestors, but modern traditions include dolls made of grain straws, reeds and corn husks. The doll is dressed, decorated with whatever finery you like (flowers, seashells, beads, etc.), and dedicated by speaking invocations to Brigid over it.

The Brideog is then carried into the house with great pomp, sung to, reveled and feasted. The procession may go from place to place, singing songs to entertain fellow revelers and allow them to present offerings to the little Bridget doll in exchange for a Brigid's Cross to bring them luck. In a variation of this, I have led kids around the property singing to trees, encouraging them to wake up and help bring about springtime. Of course, you can sing Bridget some songs and present her with offerings and give her a place of honor at your dinner table without leaving the comfort of home as well.

At the end of the night, the women prepare the leaba Brid (Lawa Bree) or Brid's bed and Brid's staff, slatag Brid (slah tahg Bree), which should be sized to the Bride'og's proportions. Brigid should be put to bed near the hearth fire and the fireplace swept clean so that She can use her staff to write messages in the ashes for your family to find in the morning.

Brigid's Mantle

While St. Brigid and the Goddess Brigid are not one in the same, many of the legends about each has been ascribed to the other and so many traditions cross over. The mantle of St. Brigid is a holy relic in the Catholic tradition. It is a piece of woolen cloth, dyed crimson that is believed to once have been a part of St. Brigid's fabled cloak. There are several stories associated with the cloak, some ascribed the the Saint and some to the Goddess.

The cloak (or Brat Brid) is said to magical powers to heal, to protect and to aid in fertility. If a blanket, shawl or cloak is placed outdoors before sunset on Imbolc evening and brought back in before sunrise, Brigid will bless it in the night for you use through the year. You can store it away to use when needed, or pieces can be cut from the cloth and sewn into clothing to protect the wearer. Brigid's cloak is particularly useful to bring along when giving birth or helping livestock do so (esp. hoofstock).

Brigid's Cross

Brigid's cross in an equal-armed cross traditionally made from grain stalks or straw, especially left over from making your Brigid doll or her bed, but you certainly don't have to do both. Make many, because these crosses have several magical uses. Last year's crosses can be burned to symbolically let go of last year's business, or tucked away in the attack to continue to protect the home.

Imbolc as the Milk Feast

Another name for Imbolc is Oimelc, which I am told means "ewe's milk" and that it is a festival celebrating the return of milk to the diet as the hoofstock begins to give birth. Where I live, February is the coldest, most miserable month of the year. This is not the time of year that I would choose to have any of my livestock give birth. In fact, I can't think of a worst time, except maybe the heat of August. (I have also heard the Imbolc means "in the belly", which is much more reasonable. I like my livestock pregnant by now, just not giving birth quite yet.) Of course, Imbolc did not evolve in the Midwestern United States. This part of the festival likely applies to someone somewhere, even if it doesn't to me, here.

Of course, most of us have a steady supply of dairy products from the grocery store so it's hard to muster up enthusiasm for a festival devoted to something we never really see a shortage of. If this is you, you might want to think of it as an ancestral celebration; remembering the hardships your ancestors suffered at this time of year. This is reflected in the saying: A farmer should on Candlemas day1 have half his food and half his hay. (Because if he didn't, either he or his livestock, or both, weren't going to make it to spring.)

Of course, if you honor Brigid at your Hearth, then you are probably aware of the fact that she is a guardian of livestock, particularly dairy animals and there are stories of her magnificent cattle which gave inordinate amounts of milk. Then, it absolutely makes sense to have a dairy feast at Imbolc in Her honor.

Celebrating the Coming of Spring

Many refer to Imbolc as a spring festival. Symbols such as spring flowers (particularly the snowdrop) and ploughs (for preparing fields for planting) are popular for Imbolc. Again, this is going to depend largely upon where you're located. Here, we aren't thinking about spring. We've got at least 2 months of winter left and we're not even thinking about planting until 8 weeks before our last frost date, at the end of May (this by happy coincidence puts us right around the Spring Equinox so we can incorporate it into our Ostara celebrations.) and, while we plant crocus, daffodils and snowdrops in profusion, we're not likely to see any before March. I really did try to celebrate Imbolc as the start of spring for a few years, but the family wasn't feeling it.

But again, Imbolc didn't originate here. Perhaps where you are, the spring flowers and migrating birds are making their appearance around the first of February and you feel inspired to celebrate the coming spring.

Some people will wait to celebrate Imbolc until the first spring flower pops out of the snow, or the first migratory bird is seen to have returned. You may wish to follow this practice too, if you like.

You may usher in the spring by including foods in your feast that correspond to the element of Fire or the Sun and by decorating your home with flowers and images of the Sun.

Begin your spring cleaning, open up all your windows and doors and sweep out the year before to make room for new blessing. Be sure to add some purifying and energizing fragrance to your wash water.

Dig out your gardening tools. Make sure they're cleaned, sharpened and in good repair before blessing them.

Plan your garden. Sort through your seed bank and prepare to purchase your seeds for the coming year. Make sure you have everything you need.

Banishing Winter and Darkness

If you just feel ridiculous welcoming spring in the dead of winter and yet feel the call to do a seasonal celebration, I suggest that a great deal of catharsis can be found in a ritual banishing of winter. While there may be zero hint of spring in the air, the lengthening days let us know that winter is weakening. Now is the time to strike!

Light candles, lots of them, to celebrate the returning light. You may wish to make a Candle Wheel, St. Lucia style.

Bring in a bowl of snow and place it near the fireplace to melt, or light several candles (floating candles!) inside that will burn while the snow melts. Decorate the bowl with greenery.

Make candles!

Force bulbs indoors.

Do you have any decorations, greenery, maybe a tree left over from the Yuletide holidays? Burn 'em and dance.

Banishing Other Stuff

Imbolc, the halfway point of winter, is a good time to banish other stuff from our lives too. Since it's not too far after New Year's Day, it might be a good time to re-affirm any New Year's resolutions, especially if they involve getting rid of things (like debt, extra weight, addictions, etc.) A simple ritual along can involve writing those things you wish to banish on slips of paper and burning them.

February Eve and the Purification of the Home

At some point we have to stop calling it Imbolc because it's just not anymore. But the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox is a moment that begs marking. Obviously, it's marked by so many, in so many ways.

Enter February Eve. The word February comes from the Latin februa which means something like fumigation, that is something like what many of us call smudging. It refers to rituals of purification that took place in homes, temples and public places in Rome during this time.

I personally spend February cleansing my home of everything I don't want to bring with me into the coming year, from outgrown clothes to expired food to attitudes and bad habits, and performing physical and ritual cleansings and blessings on my home and myself. I mark the start of this frenzy with a feast that roughly corresponds to Imbolc (enough that when I invite the Celtic Witches over to celebrate they can relate) as close to the start of the month as the fall of the weekends and some potentially conflicting birthdays allow. This day I have dubbed February Eve.

Once the house is purged, give it a good sweeping and then bury or burn your broom and replace it with a fresh new one to symbolize getting rid of all the garbage of your past to make a fresh start. If you're emotionally attached to your broom (I am, I jumped over it with my husband, after all) burn the bristles and re-bristle it.

Time for Divination

Perhaps because everyone is so tired of winter by this time, February 2nd is a popular day to attempt to divine the weather for the coming weeks. That is, after all, what the groundhog thing is all about.

On Imbolc day, the Caillagh, the winter hag, gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. If she knows the winter will be long, she will make sure that she has plenty of fair weather on Imbolc day to gather the wood she needs.

You may also wish to spend some time doing candle divination, or skrying in a bowl of melted snow.

A Note About Hemispheres

In the Southern Hemisphere, your calendar may say Imbolc near the end of summer. Your holidays are reversed. Some folks find this confusing, but remember, these are seasonal holidays and have nothing to do with our arbitrary, man-made calendar. Calculate Imbolc between the solstice that falls in your Winter (our Summer over here in the US) and the equinox that falls in your spring. This would put you in the beginning of August instead of the beginning of February. Proceed.