Imbolc is an ancient festival, Celtic in origin, and considered one of the greater Wiccan sabbats. It is celebrated on the night of February 1st in the northern hemisphere.
The primary purpose of Imbolc is to celebrate Spring’s impending replacement of Winter. In this sense, Imbolc may be seen as a spiritual alternative to the secular celebration of New Year’s Eve.
At New Year’s Eve, we often see the image of old, bearded Father Time replaced with a young baby. Father Time represents the old, outgoing year, and the baby celebrates the year just born. At Imbolc, we have similar imagery; an old crone represents the outgoing year, and turns things over to a young maiden.
Fertility, of course, plays a part here. The frozen earth is incapable of growing things, just as the old crone has grown incapable of producing offspring. This barrenness is replaced by the warm return of Spring, making the earth once again fertile, symbolized by the fertile young maiden.
How to Celebrate Imbolc
An evening feast is in order, since Imbolc represents a return to liveliness and all the bounties of Nature. Americans might best grasp the concept of Imbolc by thinking of it as a Thanksgiving celebration for what is about to happen. Celebrants can be happy feasting, knowing that winter is passing and that food will once again be growing and plentiful. The feast begins with a short prayer, or toast:
Blessed be the earth, and all who dwell upon it.
We give thanks for the season now departing from us,
For the blessings it has bestowed upon us,
And upon those with whom we share this world.
Blessed be the new season.
We pray that it will be a time filled with peace,
With abundance, with prosperity,
Blessed be all who share this feast.
Let us now prepare for the time ahead
By opening our hearts, and our minds, and our spirits.
The table should be set with white candles. Since ewes begin lactating at around the time of Imbolc in many locations in the northern hemisphere, the sabbat is connected with ewe’s milk. For this reason, some sort of dairy product – cheese, for example – should be included in the feast. Other than that, there are no specific food requirements, except that food should be plentiful! Something green and fresh, such as a salad, would indicate the coming of spring, but since winter is yet with us, the main fare should be hearty, served with a nice, crusty bread. Mead, ale, spiced wine or non-alcoholic equivalents would all be appropriate beverages.