St. Bridget's Day

St. Bridget's Day

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: February 1
Where Celebrated: England, Ireland, Scotland
Symbols and Customs: Bridie Doll, Fire, Rush Cross
Related Holidays: Imbolc, St. Patrick's Day

ORIGINS

St. Bridget (or Bride) is the female patron saint of Ireland. She was an Irish princess who converted to Christianity and became the first Irish nun. In 585 she built a cell for herself under a large oak that may have been the site of pagan ceremonies in earlier times. Her hermitage there was known as Kill-Dara, or "the cell of the oak." She established a convent there, around which the Irish city of Kildare eventually grew.

The customs associated with St. Bridget's Day resemble in many ways those of the ancient Celtic festival of IMBOLC, observed at the same time of year and considered to mark the first day of spring and the beginning of the planting season. Bridget was therefore associated with a number of legends and superstitions regarding the weather and agricultural prosperity. For example, every other day between St. Bridget's Day and ST. PATRICK'S DAY (March 17) is supposed to be fair, according to Irish folklore. After that, every day is supposed to be fair. And like the groundhog on CANDLEMAS, the hedgehog's behavior on St. Bridget's Day is believed to predict the upcoming weather.

The custom of having women propose marriage to men during Leap Year (see LEAP YEAR DAY ) can be traced back to St. Bridget, who complained to St. Patrick about the fact that men always took the initiative. She persuaded him to grant women the right to propose to men one year out of every four. Then Bridget proposed to Patrick, who turned her down but softened his refusal by giving her a kiss and a silk gown.

The basis of the remembrance of St. Bridget, as well as other saints, is found in ancient Roman tradition. On the anniversary of a death, families would share a ritual meal at the grave site of an ancestor. This practice was adopted by Christians who began observing a ritual meal on the death anniversary of ancestors in the faith, especially martyrs. As a result, most Christian saint days are associated with the death of the saint. There are three important exceptions. John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus are honored on their nativities (birthdays). Many who suffered martyrdom are remembered on saint days in the calendars of several Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant sects.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Bridie Doll

"Bride" or "Bridie" is another form of "Bridget." Bridie dolls were small figures made of straw and decorated with flowers. Women would bring them to the door on St. Bridget's Day and call out, "Let Bride come in!" The doll was then placed in a cradle inside the house with a wand of birch, broom, or willow beside it to represent Bride's husband.

The custom of displaying Bridie dolls originated in Scotland but has recently been revived in the area around Glastonbury, England. Irish children still go from door to door carrying a large doll, which they call "St. Bridget's baby," and ask for money to buy candles for the saint.

Fire

The pagan sun god in Ireland had a daughter named Brighit, usually shown with a child in her arms. Her chief temple, in what later became known as Kildare, was served by virgins of noble birth called "the daughters of fire." It was their duty to keep Brighit's sacred fire burning without interruption. When the temple later became the site of St. Bridget's Christian convent, the nuns continued to tend the fire that had originally been dedicated to the pagan goddess, whose name was close enough to the Christian saint's name to be easily confused.

Brighit was associated with fire because breo is Irish for a firebrand or torch, and breoch means "glowing." St. Bridget's fire continued to burn for several hundred years, but it was suppressed by an order from the Archbishop of Dublin in the year 1220, perhaps because of its pagan origins. But the custom of lighting a fire on St. Bridget's Day survived for many years in Scotland, where schoolchildren would build a "Candlemas blaze" on the first of February.

Rush Cross

In some parts of Ireland, children are still sent out on St. Bridget's Eve to pull up rushes, which cannot be cut with a knife. When the rushes are brought into the house, everyone gathers around the fire and makes crosses from them, which are then sprinkled with holy water. The wife or eldest daughter prepares tea and pancakes, and a plate of pancakes is laid on top of the rush crosses. After the food has been eaten, the crosses are hung up over doors and beds to bring good luck.

The rush crosses are probably a survival of a pre-Christian custom associated with a pagan demigoddess who was considered to be a patroness of the Irish bards. They were adapted by the Christian missionaries, for whom the cross was a symbol of Jesus Christ.

FURTHER READING

Brewster, H. Pomeroy. Saints and Festivals of the Christian Church. 1904. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Crippen, T.G. Christmas and Christmas Lore. 1923. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. King, John. The Celtic Druids' Year: Seasonal Cycles of the Ancient Celts. London: Blandford, 1995. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.

WEB SITE

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia www.newadvent.org/cathen/02784b.htm

St. Bridget's Day

February 1
St. Bridget (or Brigid, or Bride ) is the female patron saint of Ireland. She has also been identified with an ancient pagan goddess. Her feast day, February 1, was traditionally the first day of spring and of the new year in rural Ireland because it marked the start of the agricultural season. Legends about Bridget associate her with abundance and fertility; her cows, for example, allegedly gave milk up to three times a day. She is credited with an almost endless number of miracles and was buried in the same church at Downpatrick where the bodies of St. Patrick and St. Columba lie. She lived during the sixth century and probably established the first Irish convent, around which the city of Kildare eventually grew.
Many old customs and folk beliefs are associated with St. Bridget's feast day. For example, people would not perform any work on this day that involved turning or twisting, or that required the use of a wheel. It was also customary on the eve of the saint's day for the oldest daughter of the family to bring a bundle of rushes to the door. Playing the role of St. Bridget, she would distribute the rushes among the family members, who would make crosses from them and, after the crosses were sprinkled with holy water, hang them throughout the house. Because St. Bridget is said to have woven the first cloth in Ireland, a cloth known as the Brat Bhride, or "Bridget's cloak," was left outside on the steps, and during the night it was believed to acquire special healing powers.
The custom of having women propose marriage to men during Leap Year can also be traced to St. Bridget. As legend has it, she complained to St. Patrick about the fact that men always took the initiative and persuaded him to grant women the right to do so during one year out of every four. Then Bridget proposed to Patrick, who turned her down but softened his refusal by giving her a kiss and a silk gown.
SOURCES:
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 206
BkFest-1937, p. 53
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 43
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 165, 966
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 24
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 109
OxDictSaints-1987, p. 62
OxYear-1999, pp. 57, 60
SaintFestCh-1904, p. 89