Helping children connect with the rhythms of nature has many benefits and celebrating festivals our ancestors marked, when peoples activities were more closely tied to nature, is an engaging way of doing this. How you go about doing this is down to you. The ‘Wheel of the Year’ is often associated with Pagans, but many of the Pagan ideas were incorporated into Christianity. In the activities I do with my own children, and the events I run I try to focus on the history/folklore elements rather than getting too deep on different ideas/beliefs.
The wheel of the year is an ancient Celtic calendar based on festivals that celebrated peoples connection with nature - no religion or certain beliefs are needed to celebrate, though it can be associated with beliefs such as Neo-Paganism, Wicca and more. The calendar revolves around eight festivals - each signalling a shift in the natural world around us. The Celts had four great festivals known as ‘Major Sabbats’ - Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. Later the Celts included solstices in their festivals, a tradition the Saxons brought. What has developed over the years are the ‘lesser sabbats’ - Ostara, Litha, Mabon and Yule. Some argue on the authenticity of some of these, but we won’t delve into that debate here! Each of the eight festivals is roughly six and half weeks apart. It was only in the mid 20th century that these were created as a ‘wheel’ to represent these cycles of nature.
The Wheel of the Year
The cross Quarter (fire) festivals are: Imbolc (1st-2nd February for spring Beltane (30th April- 1st May for summer) Lughnasadh (1st-2nd of August for autumn) Samhain (31st of October-1st of November for winter)
The 4 quarter point (solar) festivals: Ostara - Spring Equinox (20th-23rd of March) Litha - Summer Solstice (20th-23rd June) Mabon - Autumn Equinox (20th-23rd September) Yule - Winter Solstice (20th-23rd December)
Imbolc 1st-2nd of Feb
Imbolc is a Gaelic festival, that begins at sundown on February 1st and ends at sundown on February 2. It was celebrated by the Celts (Pagan) who associated the celebration with Brìde/Brighid - goddess of fire, fertility and poetry. Later the Christian celebration of Candlemas/St Bridget’s Day was celebrated. Brìde became Saint Brigit.
Imbolc marks the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox. It marks the start of the agricultural year; lambs are born and the soil starts to warm up. The original word ‘Imbolg’ – means in the belly. Mother Earth is pregnant and the signs of new life are just beginning to show.
There are different spellings of the Pagan goddess including Brìde, Brighid, Brìghde and possibly more. In this article I’ll refer to her by one of these.
St Bridget and Christianity
The pagan celebration is said to have been Christianised. Christians associate the 1st of February with Saint Bridget, who is also celebrated on the first of February, is the patron saint of poets amongst other things.
The twin celebrations of St Brigid’s Day and Candlemas take place across the 1st and 2nd of February, respectfully. Candlemas celebrates the presentation of the Christ child at the temple in Jerusalem, forty days after his birth. In the Jewish faith, a mother was considered impure for six weeks after giving birth, after which she had to attend the Temple to be purified. Candlemas gets its name from the custom of blessing and distributing candles which are then used in a procession prior to the mass. Thus, Candlemas is a festival of Lights and occurs the day after St Brigid’s Day.
Imbolc and associations
Due to its association with spring, Imbolc is often seen as a time for cleansing/purification and sowing new seeds.
There are certain things linked such as colours, animals, plants, trees, foods, crystals and so on. I’m not going into detail here as I want to focus on some simple ways to mark Imbolc with children.
Suggested activities to celebrate Imbolc with children
Signs of spring Search the area for any early signs of spring (e.g. shoots, snowdrops, birds on trees). You could do this as a talk, list or get children to draw findings may be.
Poems At Imbolc the Pagans celebrated the Goddess Brighid. She is a Goddess of fire, fertility and poetry. Christian Saint Bridget is the patron saint of poets amongst other things. Children could contribute words they associate with this time of year and what they have found. See if you can construct a poem or a story together.
Brighid is one of the Fire goddesses. Practice lighting miniature fires to honour her and talk about how to keep the ’fire burning in our hearts’.
Lit just after sunset to ‘honour the sun's rebirth’. Candles symbolise the earth's warming. You could make candles. One suggestion is to create an ‘Earth Candle’ where you dig hole and add a wick, light a fire and melt wax and then pour it into the hole. Once the wax has set the candle is lit. The candle in the ground seems a fitting way to celebrate the coming of the light and give the earth a little nudge to wake up. Decorate the ground around the candle with things to represent new life.
Dolls Small dolls made of straw represent the goddess. These used to be made and taken to homes and a bed made (sometimes near the fire). Brighid/Bridget was said to protect homes and livestock. You can make your own versions from straw, raffia or other suitable materials.
Bridget crosses At Imbolc in Ireland a Brigid’s Cross is traditionally hung at the doorway to bless all those who leave and enter, and to protect the family within. The cross represents the four directions and the union of the four elements. There are lots of instructions of how to do this on the internet. This is a good video that we used. We are experimenting with different materials we find including reeds, grasses, willow and dogwood so far. We've not mastered neatness, but it's fun to try.
“Bannoch of Bride” in honour of St. Bridget/Brighid. This goddess (and later saint) of Ireland, Scotland & the Isle of Man, returns to the earth on the eve of her feast day, also known as Imbolc, to herald the arrival of spring. And to honour the occasion of Bridget returning to herald the arrival of spring, 'bonnach' (bannocks in Scotland) were baked and left out in the hope she would leave her blessings of fertility, prosperity, and good health in return.
Bannock, oatmeal bread, was often dressed up with seeds, berries, herbs and honey for the festival. Recipes varied according to the region and period, but the earliest bannocks were dense, flat cakes of unleavened oatmeal dough, formed into a round or oval shape, then baked on a griddle. Lots of good recipes on line to try - we will give our own version a go soon and update here.
Plant seeds and restating intentions
Setting intentions is the act of stating what you intend to accomplish through your actions. When you are intentional about something , your focus is in the moment : who you are, what you do, why you do it. Mine may be as simple as spending at least 30 minutes in nature each day.
You could just say what you intend to do or repeat your new year intentions. Or you could write notes and add them to the fire. Planting a seed and setting an intention is another suggestion. As the seed sprouts and starts to grow, it will remind you of your intention.
Whatever you decide to do to celebrate Imbolc, we hope you have fun! We love to see your photos and activities, so please tag Catkinandco on social media.