In ancient times, spring arrived during the first week of February. Imbolc (from i mbolg, old Irish for "in the belly") refers to the impending birth of lambs and calves, a time of renewal, the start of the agricultural season. The celebration belonged to the Celtic goddess Brigid, daughter of Dagda, the Irish equivalent of Jupiter, Zeus, or Odin.
Brigid was a triple deity, a benevolent mother goddess of healing, fertility, and fire, as well as the patron of poets and smiths. When Christianity arrived in Ireland, the church superimposed its saints and holy days over many pagan deities and festivals. Brigid became St. Brigid (Bridget, Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Brid), the female patron saint of Ireland, guardian of hearth and home. Born in the 5th century, she became a leader of the early Celtic Christian church. Her feast day, February 1, is the first day of spring in modern Ireland.
In 470, Brigid petitioned the King of Leinster for some prime property. Thinking himself clever, the king said he would give her as much land as her shawl could cover. Brigid took off her shawl to measure the land, giving each of the four nuns with her a corner of the cloak. The women ran north, south, east, and west, and the shawl stretched to cover acres of land. Her monastery, built near a huge oak tree, became known as Cill Dara, the Church of the Oak. Cill Dara is now the Town of Kildare.
Whether goddess or saint, Brigid symbolizes the renewal of life and the hope of abundance, and Christians and pagans alike still honor her on her day.