It’s dump, grey and drizzly outside, one of the days when heavy blankets of clouds seem cast anchored above the British Isles. England justifies its bad weather reputation today. Nevertheless, I choose not to fall into the the weather blues. Today, on the 1st of February I choose to follow the ancient Celtic tradition, about which I learnt while I lived on the other side of the Irish Sea. Today, I choose to think about the bright, sunny days ahead of us and I’ll celebrate the first day of spring as the ancient Celts did. Those guys and girls must have loved to party and came up with all sorts of excuses for a good craic. Trust me, that didn’t change in Ireland to this day.
The Celtic year used to be divided in 2 halves, one of darkness and one of light. The start of the dark half, Samhain, fell around what is the 31st October in the Gregorian calendar, but we’ll leave that story for the Halloween time. The light half of the Celtic year, Beltane, started around the 1st of May. Not only did the Celts celebrate both, but they came up with 2 other reasons to party, Imbolc (means milking, in milk) on the 1st of February and Lughnasadh on the 1st of August. Imbolc was the time when ewes and cows lactated, warm, sunny days were around the corner, so why wouldn’t people rejoice that the mother nature was waking up and becoming more friendly? And they did. At dusk, they threw a party to celebrate the start of spring.
The first of February was also the day of the goddess Brighid, the goddess of arts, crafts and prophecy, known by a number of other, similar names. As it happened with many pagan festivals, after Christianity settled in Ireland, the 1st of February was turned into the feast of St Brigid, who remained one of the main Irish saints to this day.
Ireland, that I got to know during the last 10 years, is not as religious as the world expects it to be. Nevertheless the Irish do follow their traditions and at the same time are not threatened by different cultures. They do know how to make immigrants feel welcome and this is, probably one of the reasons why many foreigners easily adopt Irish traditions and culture. The Irish warm welcome is, probably, also the clue to the immigrants being included and involved in the society, to which they contribute a lot.
Don’t get me wrong, of course that there are people who would like to see a lot less of immigration there. However, they are not the majority, they are not the mainstream and they don’t manage to convince the rest of the population that the immigrants are a threat, because they are not. There is a line in the musical Wicked, which is so true, ‘one sure way to bring people together is to give them a really good enemy’. Sadly enough, we see it applied more and more to masses around the world. However, I cannot imagine Ireland following that path and am sure that it will remain as welcoming as I and many of my friends experienced it to be.
Well, there must be a very good reason for immigrants of the Emerald Island often becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves. Keep it going, my lovely Ireland.
Note: St Brigid’s monastic site is in town of Kildare, which is a great day trip from Dublin, especially if you are into horses, because the fantastic Irish National Stud is based there. A tip: visit the stud at the beginning of March, when sweet foals run around lawns.