Celebrating St. Brigid - Why and How
Can you guess the most popular Saint in Ireland?
Well, that’s kind of a trick question. The most popular Saint in Ireland happens to be St. Patrick, which we celebrate every year on March 17th. But the second most popular Saint in Ireland is St. Brigid of Kildare. We honor her every year on February 1st with the Feast of St. Brigid. This day is also linked to Imbolic, celebrating the return of Spring in Ireland.
Why do we celebrate St. Brigid?
St. Brigid was known as a healer and a protector. She spent her days tending to the sick and teaching the Holy Trinity so as to protect the spirits of individuals. One of the most revered stories of St. Brigid has her at her father’s bedside while he was ill. Although he was not a believer, she would talk about the Holy Trinity while picking up reeds or straw that covered the ground in the room. From those reeds, she crafted what is now known as the St. Brigid’s Cross.
How do we celebrate St. Brigid?
You know the Irish love a celebration! In fact, the celebration of St. Brigid has been turned into 2 days because the eve of the feast is just as important as the day of her feast. Known as Brideog Night, people start the celebration of St. Brigid on January 31st. There are several customs that honor St. Brigid.
St. Brigid was said to have performed miracles, including healing and feeding the poor. One of the celebrations that honors St. Brigid includes children. Youngsters would dress down - either wearing tattered clothing or they would turn their regular clothes inside out. They would set out and go door-to-door, singing and collecting coins.
They would sing:
“Here comes poor Brigid both deaf and blind,
Put your hand in your pocket and give her a coin.
If you haven’t a penny, half a penny will do.
If you haven’t a half-penny,
God bless you.”
On the eve of St. of Brigid's Day, the night of January 31st, families would prepare a special meal. This meal wasn’t extravagant at all. It featured the equivalent of what we might today consider pancakes. The table would be filled with milk and plenty of butter. Including butter is tied to a tale about St. Brigid as a child. It is said that she once gave away all of her Mother’s butter to the poor. Brigid was born into slavery so her family did not have anything to spare, so giving away your Mother’s entire store of butter was not a wise decision, however the butter was miraculously replenished in an answer to Brigid’s prayers.
During this meal, oftentimes families will add an extra place setting to honor St. Brigid, showing that she was always welcome in their home.
After the meal was complete, oats or a cake was left outside the home’s main door to vanquish the hunger of the weary traveler or the Saint herself. It is a generous offering from those who often don’t have much to spare. At nightfall, a member of the house would go outside and call to let Brigid in their home. The family would all get down on their knees and would repeat the chant, “Welcome Brigid” three times.
Probably the most widely known custom to honor St. Brigid would be making crosses out of reeds or straw just as she often did during her travels. The crosses themselves would be hand woven into a few different designs that vary in complexity. You’ll see both 3-armed and 4-armed St. Brigid’s Crosses.
The St. Brigid Crosses are hung above the entryway to houses and buildings. These crosses are thought to protect all of those within the house, even the animals. Because these St. Brigid’s Crosses are typically made of reeds or straw, they are replaced with new crosses each year. It is customary that when the reed cross no longer holds its shape, that they either be buried to bless the crops or burned in the fire for additional warmth.
As you hang the St. Brigid’s Cross over the doorway, you can recite this short passage:
“St. Brigid’s Cross hung over the door
Which did the house from fire secure,
O gillo thought, O powerful charm
To keep a house from taking harm;
And tho’ the dogs and servants slept,
By Brigid’s care the house was kept.”
The custom of crafting St. Brigid’s Crosses used to be passed down from generation to generation but that tradition is slowly disappearing. We are so fortunate to have our maker-partner Patricia, who is committed to honoring St. Brigid, hand crafting our crosses in Co. Roscommon, Ireland.
Giving St. Brigid’s Crosses as a gift was also said to put a blessing on the maker or gifter. They would receive the benefits of lifelong friendship and these bonds would strengthen their ties, year after year. In addition to reed crosses, we also have a variety of St. Brigid Cross necklaces which make an excellent gift for someone you’d like to protect or keep safe.
We look forward to celebrating St. Brigid on January 31st and February 1st.
Which cultural traditions - they don’t have to be Irish - do you still observe? I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email at email@example.com.
Slán go fóill - Bye for now