Celebrating Saint Brigid's Day the Irish Way on February 1st

  • 01 of 07

    Celebrating Saint Brigid's Day

    Saint Brigid (and her white cow) in the Church of Ireland Cathedral at Armagh
    ••• Saint Brigid (and her white cow) in the Church of Ireland Cathedral at Armagh. © Bernd Biege 2017

    Saint Brigid of Kildare is Ireland's most important female saint, and her feast day on the first of February also marks the beginning of spring in Ireland. Obviously, the "Mary of the Gaels" is connected to old ways, folklore, and agriculture. But just how? The celebration of Saint Brigid’s Day, possibly a revamped Imbolc feast, was often focused not only on the saint herself but also on cattle and dairy of which Brigid is the patron saint.

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  • 02 of 07

    Make a Saint Brigid's Cross

    Saint Brigid's Cathedral in Kildare Town
    ••• Saint Brigid's Cathedral in Kildare Town. © Bernd Biege 2017

    These crosses are traditionally made from rushes, but today many materials (and sometimes even different regional designs) are used. Any material used for making the cross should ideally be blessed.

    You may note that the design of the Saint Brigid’s Cross (or Bogha Bride) is straddling the pagan and Christian world – while it still is a variety of the cross, it also is similar in design to a fylfot or swastika.

    The finished cross should be hung on the inside of a thatched roof (if you have one). above the front door. In a pinch, the inside of your front door will do. Saint Brigid’s Crosses are left in their place for the whole year and renewed on the following Saint Brigid’s Day. In some old cottages, you'll still notice an assortment of old, cobwebbed crosses hanging in the rafters, more than likely blackened by soot and smoke.

    Here is a link to step-by-step instructions on how to make a Saint Brigid’s Cross.​

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  • 03 of 07

    Serve Saint Brigid's Day Food

    Saint Brigid in stained glass - in a church dedicated to her memory in Oldcastle, County Meath
    ••• Saint Brigid in stained glass - in a church dedicated to her memory in Oldcastle, County Meath. © Bernd Biege 2017

    Saint Brigid was known to travel the countryside, blessing households as she went accompanied by a white cow with red ears. You should make her feel welcome, just in case, she passes by - placing bread and fresh butter on the outside windowsill, together with corn for the cow, usually does the trick. Also, remember to lay out some rushes for her. These are to kneel on while blessing the household.

    A piece of white cloth or a white silk ribbon was hung on the outside of the front door for the Saint to bless.

    One was also advised to make fresh butter for Saint Brigid’s Day, maybe not a practical idea in modern times. You might, however, be willing to prepare a special dinner for Saint Brigid’s Eve. And remember that Saint Brigid’s Day was also a day for those who have to give food to those who haven‘t.

    In many regions, a special oat bread was baked for Saint Brigid’s Day - Saint Brigid’s Bread. You’ll find a recipe for Saint Brigid’s Bread on a separate page – but remember that ideally this...MORE should have been blessed by a priest and then shared.

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  • 04 of 07

    Arrange Saint Brigid's Day Family Activities

    Brigid, it's cold outside ... statue in Kildare Town
    ••• Brigid, it's cold outside ... statue in Kildare Town. © Bernd Biege 2017

    On Saint Brigid’s Eve, in many areas the Bridie Boys would tour the 'hood, carrying an effigy of the saint, called the Brideog ... basically a doll in white clothes. They had the right to pick up the offerings left out. Coming around they would chant some ancient (though not very poetic) rhymes like:

    Something for poor Biddy!
    Her clothes are torn,
    Her shoes are worn!
    Something for poor Biddy!

    Another piece of doggerel went like this:

    Here is Brigid dressed in white,
    Give her a penny for her night,
    She is deaf, she is dumb,
    She cannot talk without a tongue.

    In some areas, the Brideog was not a doll but the purest girl of the village. Who selected this? One can just imagine the auditions for this and the reactions of unsuccessful candidates (and their parents).

    On a smaller scale a door ceremony is held in many households. The eldest daughter will represent Saint Brigid, knock and ask to be let inside by intoning: „Go on your knees, open your eyes, and let Brigid in.“ The rest of the household...MORE would then answer: „Greetings, greetings to the noble woman.“ Cue a door flung open wide and a family dinner.

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  • 05 of 07

    Give Animals a Share in Saint Brigid's Name

    Votive offerings at a "holy well" dedicated to Saint Brigid
    ••• Votive offerings at a "holy well" dedicated to Saint Brigid. © Bernd Biege 2017

    Traditionally, farm animals would be especially well taken care of on Saint Brigid's Day. There you go - if you don't own a farm, give your companion animal a special treat. Or make a donation to the local humane society or animal shelter.

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  • 06 of 07

    Raise a Glass to Saint Brigid's Health!

    Brigid - keeper of the flame, and keeping the brewing vats warm
    ••• Brigid - keeper of the flame, and keeping the brewing vats warm. © Bernd Biege 2017

    An Irish celebration without a drink? Near impossible. Brigid was after all also famous for brewing ale. So feel free to have a pint. In honor of the saint, naturally. Guinness will do nicely. But don't be blinkered, Irish beer is so much more than Guinness.

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  • 07 of 07

    Learn More About Saint Brigid

    A church mosaic depicting Saint Brigid, also in Oldcastle (County Meath)
    ••• A church mosaic depicting Saint Brigid, also in Oldcastle (County Meath). © Bernd Biege 2017