Candles and Lights
Candles (leading to the name, “Candlemas”) are sometimes burned in every window in the house, starting the night of February 1st, until the candles burn themselves out. (If you practice this, be watchful of fire hazards. We use battery-operated candles, and the if the bulbs and batteries are new, the lights remain on all night.)
This is yet another time to enjoy outdoor luminaria, as well. That’s when you take bags (lunch bags work fine, and you can cut designs in them), put a couple of inches of sand in the bottom of each bag, and then put a tea candle in each bag. If the bag is on a wooden porch or other flammable surface, make certain to use plenty of sand to insulate. Also check the bags regularly, in
case a stiff wind tilts a bag and the paper goes up in flames.
A similar tradition (in older houses where families have lived for generations) is to light a candle, one in the window of each room
where someone has died. One candle for each person who died in that room. Again, the candle is allowed to burn itself out.
A related tradition is to make candles the night before the holy day, thentake them to church to be blessed on the feast, and use those candlesthroughout the rest of the year.
Yet another candle tradition, which we have used with delight, is to collect a bowl of snow. (A white cereal bowl is perfect.) Bring the bowl indoors, place a “floating candle” in the center of the pile of snow and light it. As the snow melts, the candle will remain alight because it floats in the water. This is a very visual symbol for the return of light and heat to the earth, melting the snow.
There are a variety of traditions related to making a “Bride’s bed” (also called “Brighid’s bed”) with a homemade cradle, an ear of corn, a wand (smaller but related to the coronation wand given to the kings of Ireland), and small tokens of respect and/or adornment. Many books on Celtic traditions give the details of this ritual.
St. Brighid’s Cross
“St. Brighid’s Cross,” is another tradition. It is a woven cross made from straw, sometimes with a diamond shape woven around the center. (Compare thiswith the Native American “God’s eye” crosses.) In some places, wells and other water sources (such as faucets) are decorated with ivy and early flowers.
Brighid’s healing arts are called upon in yet another delightful tradition.As night falls, place an item of clothing outside, for Brighid to bless as she passes over the earth on Imbolc. In the morning, bring the item indoors, and wear it whenever you need an extra blessing to heal. People with migraines are supposedly helped by this tradition, in particular. (Due to winter winds, it’s
a good idea to tie the item to a tree or fence so it doesn’t blow away during the night.)
And, in the morning…
In keeping with the milk theme of the holiday, some people pour a small amount of milk onto the soil early on February 2nd morning, as they thank Mother Earth for having fed them for the past year. The dairy theme of the festival also makes it appropriate to enjoy rich dishes and desserts such as cheesecake.
As with many holidays, it’s always appropriate to drum or ring in the festival, with a drum, rattle, or bells.
This is also a time for housecleaning and preparing for the new growing season. (Some women do a ritual “spring cleaning” of house, or use a cleansing tonic at this time, to mark a fresh start and a new year.)
In many ways, New Year’s Eve is somewhat misplaced. We do far better to begin our “resolutions” at Imbolc, which celebrates new beginnings.
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