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, which possibly started as a pagan celebration known as Imbolc, was often focused not only on the saint herself but also on cattle and dairy (of which Brigid is the patron saint).
Here is how to celebrate Saint Brigid's Day in Ireland.
Make a Saint Brigid's Cross
These crosses are traditionally handmade 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 a mix of pagan and Christian influences – while it still is a variety of the cross, it also is similar in design to a fylfot, with each of the four arms bending at a right angle.
Traditionally in Ireland, the finished cross is 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 thought to protect the home from evil, hunger, and fire and should be left in their place for the whole year, only to be remade 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.
Serve Saint Brigid's Day Food
Before Saint Brigid became a nun, she was a milkmaid. She was known for getting more milk from every cow and being able to churn more butter than just about anyone else. Her knack for dairy continued once she became a nun.
Saint Brigid was known to travel the countryside, blessing households as she went accompanied by a white cow with red ears. In order to make her feel welcome on her saint's day, just in case, she passes by - it is tradition to leave bread and fresh butter on the outside windowsill, together with corn for the cow. Also, remember to lay out some rushes for her. These are to kneel on while blessing the household.
In Ireland, it was also very common to leave out clothes or ribbon on the eve of Saint Brigid's Day. 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 (which is actually more like an oatcake than a loaf of bread). You’ll find a recipe for Saint Brigid’s Bread on a separate page – but remember that ideally this should have been blessed by a priest and then shared.
Arrange Saint Brigid's Day Family Activities
On Saint Brigid’s Eve, in many areas the boys would go through the village, carrying an effigy of the saint, called the Brideog which is basically a doll in white clothes, sometimes made out of corn. 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 rhyme 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 in the village.
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 calling out: "Go on your knees, open your eyes, and let Brigid in." The rest of the household would then answer: "Greetings, greetings to the noblewoman." Cue a door flung open wide and a family dinner.
Give Animals a Share in Saint Brigid's Name
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.
Raise a Glass to Saint Brigid's Health!
An Irish celebration without a drink? Near impossible. Brigid was after all also famous for brewing ale so feel free to have a pint on February 1st. In honor of the saint, naturally. Guinness will do nicely. But don't stop there, Irish beer is so much more than Guinness.
Learn More About Saint Brigid
If you want to learn more about the life and work of Saint Brigid, here are some further resources for reading: