As the days slowly start to grow longer again and Valentine's Day draws near, neo-pagans of all kinds gather together to celebrate the first spring welcoming festival of the Wheel of the Year. The Wheel of the Year is a neo-pagan calendar that combines holidays and festivals from many cultures, including Celtic and European cultures as well as some Greek and Roman influences, to make an astrologically based set of 8 holidays.
The next holiday in the Wheel of the Year is known as Imbolc or Candlemas. Based in Gaelic and Celtic origins, Imbolc is a festival designed to give thanks and ask for the blessings of the Goddess Brighid, who presides over poetry, healing, and crafting such as blacksmithing. Bonfires are burned to welcome back the sun, candles are made, and food is shared with friends and family.
Imbolc is a cross quarter holiday, meaning it at a point between the winter solstice (celebrated as Yule) and the spring equinox (Easter, or Ostara). The actual date of the festival depends on the practitioner - many groups observe it as January 31st or February 1st, while some determine it's date through astrological means.
For many parts of the US Imbolc is celebrated as the first sign of spring, yet the climate doesn't correspond with the celebration. Luckily for us down in Atlanta, some early signs of spring are beginning to show. The chances for frost are lowering each week, and within a few more weeks it will be time for planting seeds outdoors. Some trees are already budding, and while temperatures are still low most days, many days are warm and bright enough for outdoor activity.
One great way to celebrate Imbolc is to make your own candles. You can pick up a simple soap making kit from most craft stores, or visit Atlanta's most famous co-op Sevananda to buy your own beeswax to melt and pour into molds, or beeswax sheets for extra simple rolled taper candles. If you don't want to make candles, or aren't the crafty type, visit a store like Candlebar and pick up some white and yellow candles to burn during Imbolc celebrations.
If you have a back yard or patio with a brazier, light a fire and gather around it in the evening to celebrate the coming spring. Small, controlled fires are allowed within Atlanta city limits right now due to the steady rain we've been receiving. If you want to build a massive bonfire, make sure to contact your local Atlanta fire department first and register for a permit.
Food is a big part of Candlemas and Imbolc celebrations as well. Cooking with foods like poppyseeds, milk, dairy products, grains, and lamb are all traditional ways to celebrate. Try making a lemon poppyseed cake, honey scones, or lamb stew. Invite friends and family over to share the meal, and decorate with white and yellow flowers and candles. Sharing poetry and songs are also ways to feel connected with your loved ones and honor Brighid and the coming spring.
For those of you looking for an open circle ritual who are willing to travel south of Atlanta, the Glade of Acacia is holding an Imbolc celebration in Griffin on Jan. 31st, 2010. For more information, contact them at (404) 723574.