Saint Brigid’s Day

February 1 is celebrated in the Celtic calendar as St. Brigid’s Day, also known as Imbolc (i-MOLG). It marks the official first day of spring in Ireland, and is one of the four major “fire” festivals. The other three festivals are Beltane (May Day), Lughnasadh (LOO-ne-se) which marks the beginning of harvest, and Samhain, which we know better as Halloween.

This is an old, old festival, which comes to us out of Ireland’s distant past. There are disagreements about the history of Brigid and this day. Some believe that she was originally a fire goddess, whose story was folded into Christianity as that religion took over the island. Alternatively, a woman named Brigid was born into slavery on February 1, 450. As she grew, her purity and generosity became legendary. She and her mother were eventually freed from slavery, and she founded a monastery in Kildare, where her shrine is today. She died on February 1, 525. Probably the truth is in some combination of facts and legends since like St. Patrick, nothing was written about the woman Brigid until long after her death.

At any rate, similar to many religions, Imbolc is the spring festival, celebrating new life. In fact, the word imbolc means “in the womb” and refers to the pregnant ewes, soon to drop new lambs.

In alphabetical order, St. Brigid is the patron saint of babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle farmers, children whose parents are not married, children whose mothers are mistreated by the children’s fathers, Clan Douglas, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, Ireland, Leinster, mariners, midwives, milkmaids, nuns, poets, the poor, poultry farmers, poultry raisers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, travelers, and watermen.

Legend says she wove rushes into the shape of a cross to explain Christianity to a dying man. Today the St. Brigid’s cross is a distinct symbol of Irish Christianity. You can find directions for making it here.

St. Brigid with her cross
St. Brigid with her cross

Since St. Brigid was known for her generosity, some quotes about that.

You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.–John Bunyan

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.–Simone Weil

It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert.–Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Money is but one venue for generosity. Kindness is an even more valuable currency.–Alan Cohen

Being generous often consists of simply extending a hand. That’s hard to do if you are grasping tightly to your righteousness, your belief system, your superiority, your assumptions about others, your definition of normal.–Patti Digh

The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.–Fred Rogers

You are so fortunate, but what are you giving back to make this world a better place for others?–Catherine Pulsifer

Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways it can change someone else’s life forever.–Margaret Cho

No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.–Calvin Coolidge

Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.–Elizabeth Bibesco

Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our mind to the unexplained worlds occupied by the needs of others.–Barbara Bush

We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.–Seneca

Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.–Thornton Wilder

Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.–Buddha

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