Here are some ideas for celebrating Là Fhèill Brìghde.
- In the run-up to the eve of Là Fhèill Brìghde (i.e. for January 31), clean and tidy the house so everything is in order. Return any items borrowed and make sure you have food in your cupboards; start the new season as you mean to go on.
- Decorate the house (or just your shrine area, if you prefer) with seasonally appropriate greenery. Dandelions, which are sacred to Brìde are especially appropriate, as are flowers that typically grow in pastures. Primroses and snowdrops may be brought in from the garden, too.
- You’ll need to plan out a few things in advance – a feast (or a special meal) is traditional so you’ll want to decide what you’re having and make sure you have everything beforehand. Since the focus of this festival is on dairy produce, you can incorporate buttery mashed potatoes using freshly churned butter into your meal, for example. You’ll also want to make sure you have any candles and other necessary items at the ready.
- Harvest some rushes (pull, rather than cut them) or make sure you have any materials you need to fashion the cros Bríde, if making.
- Butter churning is traditional and this can also form part of your offerings. Making butter is a simple process. You can buy small churns specially, but you don’t need specialist equipment. Put cream in a large jar or tub (tightly sealed) and shake it vigorously until the butter forms, or simply whisk the cream until it turns to lumps. If several people are present then everyone can take turns in helping to make the butter (a traditional way of making butter, and one that symbolically helps “share the burden”). A charm can be sung while the cream is being churned. Once the lumps have formed, drain off the buttermilk (a sieve works nicely). You’ll need to “squeeze” the excess liquid out of the butter as well, otherwise the butter won’t keep; if you’re using a sieve, simply use a large spoon to press the excess liquid out. Salt can be added for taste.
- Make the bonnach Brìde, serving with lots of butter, cheese and/or jam/jelly. Don’t forget to leave some as an offering, with milk or water as a libation (for example); any left over can be had for breakfast the next day.
- Light lots of candles in the evening; these can be homemade if you like (beeswax candles are great to make with kids since it doesn’t involve melting the wax; instead you roll or cut wax sheets to shape).
- As you light the candles to officially start your celebrations for the evening you can make your opening prayers and offerings.
- The Genealogy of Brìde can be said in her honour.
- Feast and be merry. A place can be set for Brìde during your meal, and the food and drink served for her can be left out overnight – an offering of hospitality to her for her visit.
- After dinner, the cros Bríde can be made and then hung up above the threshold, or place it above your shrine or on your chimney breast; crosses can also be made to be given as gifts to loved ones. These can be left outside overnight for her blessing.
- The previous year’s cross can be moved to the rafters, placed somewhere else in the house (or any other buildings on your property), or it can be buried or burnt as an offering of thanks to Brìde.
- Left over rushes (or other materials) can be used to make a leaba Brìde (‘the bed of Brìde’ – an oblong cradle usually made of straw, though other materials can be substituted if necessary). The dealbh Brìde (‘icon of Brìde’)/brídeóg can also be fashioned, dressing and decorating them as elaborately and brightly as you like. (You may, however, prefer to make these in advance, to save time and, if you’re using modern materials, you might need time to let things dry).
- Once the icon is ready, go to the door and softly invite Bride in. In Scotland this was traditionally done with several women present, one to take to doll to the door and one to invite her in. Assuming you’re on your own, you could adapt the traditional invitation to something like:
Tha leaba Brìghde deiseal,
Thigeadh Brìghde steach, is e beatha Brìghde,
‘A Bhrìghde! Bhrìghde thig a steach, tha do leaba deanta.
Brigid’s bed is ready
Let Brigid come in, Brigid is welcome
Brigid! Brigid, come thou in, thy bed is made.
Then place the dealbh Brìde in the cradle along with the slatag Brìde – a wand of white wood such as birch or willow, with a few heartfelt words to Her.
- In Irish, a traditional example of this invitation (though heavily influenced by Christian ideals of piety and subservience) acts out Brìde’s arrival in a more literal way. A young girl (usually on the cusp of puberty, or having just finished puberty) is chosen to be “Brighid” and she goes out to bring in the rushes that have been collected earlier in the day. She makes a circuit around the outside of the house (sunwise) and as she comes to the back door she goes:
Guidh me air mo ghluna,
Agus deoiridh go mo súile,
Agus leig asteach Brighid.
I implore on my knees
And with tears in my eyes,
And let Bridget within.
Those still inside reply enthusiastically with the refrain, “Sí bheatha, sí bheatha, sí bheatha! (She’s welcome, she’s welcome, she’s welcome!),” and then open to the door to let her in.
- If you have a hearth, spread the ashes smoothly and carefully over it before you go to bed and leave it overnight to see if Brìde leaves any sign of having visited. Marks from her wand are considered lucky, but a footprint is considered to be an especial blessing.
- Before bed, leave any items outside that you wish for her to bless during her visit. These can be special items of clothing, or pieces of cloth or ribbons that are to be used for special purposes (or sewn into items of clothing to impart her blessing). Water, salt, butter and even (adapting to a modern time) medicines, can be left out as well, for her blessing. These can all be used to encourage healing, especially for problems associated with the head, as well as for childbirth and encouraging fertility. The older the brat Bríde is, the greater its potency for healing is said to be.
- Seeds that are to be sown in the coming year may also be left out for her blessing.
- A final invitation to Brìde can be made, with offerings made to her. Offerings such as cake (or a bairín breac/barmbrack) or bread and butter are appropriate, to indicate that Brìde is welcome to visit. If the offerings are gone in the morning this is a good sign, showing that she has visited.
- On the morning of Là Fhèill Brìghde itself, chase away ‘the serpent’ by beating a clump of peat, placed in a sock or stocking, against the wall (over your shoulder) saying:
Moch madainn Bhride,
Thig an nimhir as an toll,
Cha bhoin mise ris an nimhir,
Cha bhoin an nimhir rium.
Early on Bride’s morn
The serpent shall come from the hole,
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me.
- In the morning, if no signs of Brìde’s visit are apparent then further offerings can be made to make up for any offence that may have been caused, and juniper can be burnt at the hearth or altar in the evening (just before bed) to purify and sain the house.
See also: Entries tagged with Là Fhèill Brìghde