Imbolc, Groundhog Day, St. Brigid’s Day, Candlemas Day and the Celtic Calendar of Celebrations February 01 2023
By the ancient Celtic calendar, the year was divided into four seasons. The mighty passage of the sun through these periods signaled the change of seasons—as it does for us today. These days and times vary slightly from year-to-year. For 2023 the dates for the Northern Hemisphere are:
The Summer Solstice (June 21) marks the longest day of the year when there is more daylight than on any other day of the year.
The Autumnal Equinox (September 22) marks the day in fall when there is an exact equality of daylight and darkness.
The Winter Solstice (December 21) is the darkest day of the year with the least amount of daylight.
The Spring Equinox (March 20) is the day when, again, there is an equal number of hours of daylight and darkness.
These cosmic turnings are celebrated in Christian traditions three to six days after the actual crossing days of the sun into a new phase, a new mood:
St. John’s Festival (June 23/24)
Michaelmas (September 29)
Christmas (December 25)
Easter (April 9)
Though these Christian holidays might be best known in Western traditions, every religion and culture marks the solar and lunar calendar in some important way. In the Hebrew traditions, in China, in Islam, these times are recognized in different ways. Even Kwanzaa, a relatively newly established holiday, for those whose heritages were wrestled unlawfully from them, the dates are December 26 through January1.
Between the noteworthy moments of equinoxes and solstices, exactly at the central point between these high events of extremes and equilibriums, are what are known as the cross-quarter days.
In the Celtic calendar of celebrations, these days are considered extremely important, marking the beginnings of each new season.
IMBOLC (February 1): This important day is connected to the pregnancy of ewes and is February 1 & 2. (In the U.S. it is called, Groundhog’s Day.) In Ireland, St. Brigid is intimately connected to the rituals of this day. St. Brigid, like many early Irish saints, acted as a bridge from old imaginings of the earth to new ones connected to the sacrifice of Christ who changed the substance of the earth (and all the elements) forever, and called on human beings to care for her as she has cared for human beings for millennia. Corn husk dolls in the image of Brigid, crosses created from water reeds, and requests to Saint Brigid to watch over the new life engendered in the spring, are some of the devotions for this day. Candlemas is another name for this day because Christian churches spent this day dipping all the candles they would need for the coming year’s rituals.
BELTANE (MAY 1) was celebrated at night with an enormous bonfire. This was a celebration of human beings as well as all animals. Jumping over or through the fire is considered an act of purification to prepare for new life.
LUGHNASADH or Lúnasa (August 1) marks the beginning of the harvest season, observed throughout Ireland. As with many Celtic celebrations, they are increasingly observed in North America. Country fairs, offerings of first fruits, athletic competitions; all mark this festival of celebration and relief at a harvest begun.
SAMHAIN (October 31) signals the ending of the harvest and the beginning of winter. Here in America, we celebrate Hallowe’en, and in Mexico El Día de los Muertes (the Day of the Dead) is its twin. When the earth has given every ounce of her strength to us in our efforts to provide food, there is a collapse of exhaustion we all feel. The earth has no strength left to protect us and we feel the closeness of the dead to us with this sheath of the earth gone. The festivities of gratitude for the harvest uses disguises to fool spirits into leaving us alone. These are common practices at this festival. Fortunately, the celebration of Michaelmas before SAMHAIN, gives courage to all to endure the dissipating help of the earth at this moment in time.
Whichever way we celebrate the earth’s remarkable passage through the seasons of each year, it remains important to celebrate, to connect to these passing seasons, and to each other, in recognition of our community’s work, with the tireless gifts of the cosmos and the earthly elements to keep us nourished and well. So, however one chooses to do it, CELEBRATE!