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The 1st of February is a celebration of St. Brigid and her feast day as a patron saint of Ireland. However, before the time of St. Brigid the 1st of February was known as Imbolc. Imbolc was one of four ancient pagan festivals including Bealtaine, Lúnasa and Samhain. They were all held between the equinoxes and Imbolc was celebrated between the winter and spring equinox. This was a time of light, when the long winter months began to wane, and the days grew longer. It was also a time of rebirth and fertility reflected in lambing season and the familiar glimpse of snowdrops peeping up out of the soil. Many believe that Imbolc was the day of the goddess Brigid who was associated with wisdom, poetry, blacksmithing and domesticated animals and was a symbol for rebirth and the bringing of warmth and light. Brigid was also linked with water and serenity as well as fire and passion. She protected mothers and newborn children and was honoured by poets and blacksmiths alike. Her association with fire is reflected in her connection with the sun which makes the timing of the festival of Imbolc more poignant as the sun returned after the cold months of winter.

The origin of the St. Brigid’s cross is believed to have come from the bedside of a dying Irish chieftain, often believed to be St. Brigid’s father. He remained a pagan and while he lay mortally ill Brigid soothed him and began to weave a cross from rushes on the floor. This became the symbol of St. Brigid.

Brigid the Goddess and Brigid the Saint share many attributes including protection over homes and livestock. St. Brigid’s crosses were often sprinkled with holy water and hung in the rafters of a house or in doors and windows. This was supposed to bring a blessing from St. Brigid onto your home for the year to come. Both figures were also associated with water and many wells have been dedicated to St. Brigid. 

The crosses were believed to protect houses from fire which was a constant danger in homes with thatched and wooden rooves.

The feast of Saint Brigid is now recognized as a national holiday in the Republic of Ireland. It is believed that St. Brigid is buried in the grounds of Down Cathedral and may share a grave with Saint Patrick and Saint Colmcille. Many people travel for pilgrimage to visit the holy site of these burials and many still partake in traditional festivities regarding Imbolc and the worship of the goddess Brigid.

Although corn dollies are not associated with St. Brigid directly they do have a small connection. People would make them using either the first or last sheaf of grain harvested and often bring them into their homes over the long winter months. The dollies were sometimes brought to the harvest banquet in celebration of the year’s crop and given a special place at the table. In the beginning of spring at the festival of Imbolc and later St. Brigid’s Day, these dollies could be burnt to bring luck to the new year’s crops. They were also often ploughed into the first furrow of the field before any new crops were sown.

This tradition may stem back to a belief that a spirit lived within the grains and if the crop was harvested it left the spirit with nowhere to go. Therefore the dolly was made to keep the spirit alive until a new crop could be yielded. Other customs dictate that the dolly should be kept for the whole year until the next harvest festival, in Ireland this would be Lúnasa or Samhain, the dolly was then burnt to release the spirit.