imbolc 2016 traditions
Snow torches representing the return of the sun are used in a symbolic battle against winter in Huddersfield, England, in February of 2012. Getty Images/Bethany Clarke

While some Americans looked to Punxsutawney Phil for an early end to winter, pagans around the world were expected to lure the spring equinox with traditional Imbolc festivities this week. The festival, which falls on Tuesday this year, celebrates the early signs of spring through a serious of rituals and a feast.

For pagans, who are also commonly referred to as Wiccans, Imbolc (pronounced "EE-molk") is held during the coldest and darkest days of the year, when people long for warmer temperatures felt in spring and summer. The festival is meant to symbolically drive out the frigid conditions and the darkness, by shining a light on any early seasonal changes.

Imbolc is an Old Irish word that refers to sheep’s milk. In ancient times, a lactating ewe signaled one of the first signs of spring. Also called Brigid’s Day, in reference to the Celtic goddess of fertility, Imbolc represents regeneration.

It is traditional during Imbolc to light every lamp in the home at dusk, according to experts on pagan traditions. Candles can also be lit in each room of the house to honor the sun’s rebirth. A kerosene lamp with a red chimney cab also be placed in a prominent spot of the home.

Outside of the home, celebrations typically include a twirling of torches to symbolize the sun. If there is snow on the ground, pagans walk through it and trace an image of the sun in the snow, experts say.

The Imbolc feast includes a lot of dairy, in reference to the birth of calves. Sour cream-based dishes are typical. Spicy dishes are also a staple of the Imbolc menu, symbolizing the warmth of the sun. All dishes in a Imbolc feast are made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic and chives. Spiced wines are also traditional during festival.