Imbolc or Imbolg also called (Saint) Brigid's Day is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring, widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Originally a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brigid, it has become Chritianised in some places, especially Ireland, as the festival of Saint Brigid. Traditionally it falls on 1st February, about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals—along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.
On Imbolc, Brigid's crosses were made and a doll-like figure of Brigid would be paraded from house-to-house by girls. To receive her blessings, people would make a bed for Brigid and leave her food and drink, and items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless. Brigid was also evoked to protect homes and livestock. Special feasts were had, holy wells were visited, and it was a time for divination.
Because it always flowers around this time, the snowdrop has become a symbol of Imbolc for many in recent times. Originally found in the forests and meadows of southern and central Europe, snowdrops were cultivated in the UK in the 16th century, and first recorded growing wild in the late 18th century. From our gardens and churchyards, snowdrops spread widely in areas with damp soil, such as riverbanks or woodlands.
Snowdrops’ early flowering allows them to take advantage of sunlight reaching the woodland floor before it’s blocked by the leafy tree canopy. Because they flower so early there are few pollinators about so they mostly propagate through bulb division; but on days when the weather is kind they may be visited by early pollinators, including queen bumblebees on the lookout for an early-year snack.
Their scientific name, Galanthus nivalis, means ‘milk flower of the snow’ which reflects the fact that they can endure and thrive in freezing conditions, undamaged and undaunted by falls of snow. Beautiful little flowers, they are seen by many as a very welcome sign of a turning point in the year.