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ULC Holidays: Imbolc

ULC, pagan, celtic Christian

This celebration of the beginning of spring is a mix of Celtic Christian and Pagan traditions

Interfaith ministers in the Universal Life Church are responsible for ministering to people of all faiths. Knowledge of the rituals and traditions of a variety of religious systems is important to anyone who gets ordained as an interfaith minister. Part of the education and training of an interfaith minister who gets ordained by the Universal Life Church is to learn as much as possible about how the various faith traditions have interacted in the past and continue to interact today.

Brighid, or Brid, was the name of a trio of Celtic goddesses who offered protection to poets and magicians and was considered the protector of the home. The festival of Imbolc was celebrated around the first of February among Gaelic Celts to honor Brighid and to prepare for the end of winter and rebirth of spring. The Gaelic name of the ceremony refers to “ewe’s milk,” and is a reference to the lambs that were born at the end of winter. In addition to Imbolc other pagan festivals have traditionally fallen on the first or second of February, including the Roman festival of Lupercalia and the celebration of the Egyptian mother goddess Nut.

The practice of including the local pagan gods, goddesses and traditions of an area was common during early Christianity. Examples include incorporating aspects of a pagan tradition into a Christian celebration, such as the hanging of greenery at Christmas; or scheduling a holy day at the same time that a traditional pagan celebration usually occurred, such as All Saints Day mingling with the Celtic observation of Samhain. By taking all of these pagan traditions into account when designating Christian holidays and feast days, the early Christians attempted to introduce Christianity in an interfaith way that would be acceptable to people who still enjoyed their old traditions and festivals. St. Brighid is believed by many to be a way of incorporating a familiar pagan figure into Christianity.

The origins of St. Brighid herself are shadowed in myth. There is debate among scholars over whether a person named Brighid actually existed with the details that have been attributed to her. The most popular version of her story maintains that Brighid was the daughter of a king and a slave woman. Even as an infant Brighid rejected paganism and was brought to Christ through a conversion by St. Patrick, who is responsible for Christianizing Ireland. After her conversion, Brighid performed numerous miracles while serving the poor and founding two religious orders. Although the details of her early life are debated, many people with whom she interacted have been documented to exist, and the fact that she is tied to two religious orders lends credibility to the fact that St. Brighid was a real person. She is venerated in many countries in Europe on either February 1 or 2. February 2 is also traditionally Candlemas Day among Catholics, a day which celebrates the purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of Jesus.

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