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

Pagans across the world are attempting to lure the spring equinox with traditional Imbolc festivities this week. The festival — pronounced “IM-bulk,” “EM-bowlk,” or “oi-milk” — falls on Feb. 2 and is meant to celebrate the early signs of spring.

The festival falls midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox at a time, which is traditionally the coldest and darkest time of the year for pagans, commonly referred to as Wiccans. Imbolc is also called Brigid’s Day, honoring the Celtic goddess of fire, fertility and midwifery.

Imbolc is an Old Irish word referring to sheep’s milk. It signifies fertility and in ancient times one of the earliest signs of spring was a lactating ewe.

Traditionally people light every lamp in their home at dusk during Imbolc. This is done to honor the sun’s rebirth. Candles can be lit in all rooms of the house while a kerosene lamp is usually placed in a commonly used area. A number of pagans also pay tribute to Brigid by putting together an altar and praying to the goddess.

Celebrations also include a twirling of torches to symbolize the sun as well as walking through snow to trace an image of the sun. People undertake spring cleaning and take ritual baths to create space for the goddess to come into their lives. It is also a tradition to prepare talismans for ceremonies. An example of this would be a small straw doll dressed in white cloth, referred to as a Brideog, and a Brigid’s Cross.

A major part of the Imbolc festivities is the feast. The celebratory food includes a lot of dairy, with sour cream-based dishes commonly eaten. Spicy dishes are also popular, as is spiced wine.

Some traditional Imbolc recipes can be seen here.