Spring and the Tradition of St. Brigid’s Cross

Spring and the Tradition of St. Brigid's Cross

Spring comes early to Ireland. As I walked through the parklands in mid-January daffodils had pushed through the soil, their bright blooms still hidden but preparing for debut.

The Gaelic festival of Imbolc (i-MOLG) marks the beginning of spring. Set half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, celebrations are usually held February 1.

Speak Irish The word for spring in Irish is earrach (arrock)

Originally a Celtic festival, it became Christianized as the festival of St. Brigid, a patron saint of Ireland who is thought to be based on the Brigid the Celtic goddess.

Though Bidgid has quite a few miracles attributed to her, not the least of which was the expansion of her cloak to cover the land to build her convent, her name is most associated with the St. Brigid’s Cross.

Saint Brigid's cross

The Story of St. Brigid’s Cross

There was an old pagan Chieftain who lay delirious on his deathbed in Kildare (some tales say this was her father) and his servants summoned Brigid to his beside in the hope that the saintly woman might calm his restless spirit.

Brigid is said to have sat by his bed, consoling and soothing him and it is here that she picked up rushes from the floor and began weaving them into the distinctive cross pattern.

Whilst she weaved, she explained the meaning of the cross to the sick Chieftain and it is thought her calming words brought peace to his soul. He was so captivated by her words that the old Chieftain requested he be baptized as a Christian just before his passing.

Since that day, and for the centuries that followed, it has been customary on the eve of her Feast Day for the Irish people to weave a St. Brigid’s Cross of rushes and place it inside the house over the door.

Traditions of St. Brigid’s Cross

Woven on the eve of the festival, January 31, St. Brigid’s crosses are traditionally hung by the door and in the rafters to protect a home from fire and evil.

Some traditions state that a new cross is to be woven each year, with the old one burned to keep fire from the house, but many homes will have several crosses preserved in the ceiling or roof.

How to Weave a St. Brigid’s Cross

While fresh rushes, pulled, not cut, are used to create a traditional St. Brigid’s Cross, plastic straws can be used.

I’ve taken these directions from Scoil Bhride (St. Brigid’s School) in Portlaois, Ireland.

You Will Need

  • 16 Reeds (or Straws)
  • 4 small rubber bands
  • Scissors

What to Do

  1. Hold one of the reeds vertically. Fold a second reed in half as in the diagram.
  2. Place the first vertical reed in the centre of the folded second reed.
  3. Hold the centre overlap tightly between thumb and forefinger.
  4. Turn the two rushes held together 90 degrees anti-clockwise so that the open ends of the second reed are pointing vertically upwards.
  5. Fold a third reed in half and over both parts of the second reed to lie horizontally from left to right against the first straw. Hold tight.
  6. Holding the centre tightly, turn the three reeds 90 degrees anti-clockwise so that the open ends of the third reed are pointing upwards.
  7. Fold a new reed in half over and across all the rushes pointing upwards.
  8. Repeat the process of rotating all the rushes 90 degrees anti-clockwise, adding a new folded reed each time until all rushes have been used up to make the cross.
  9. Secure the arms of the cross with elastic bands. Trim the ends to make them all the same length. The St Bridget’s Cross is now ready to hang.

References if you wish to know more

Learn the story of St. Brigid

Celtic Festivals– and introduction

Old Irish Customs that Survive in Modern Ireland podcast with author Felicity Hayes-McCoy (podcast)

Irish Christmas Traditions to Celebrate at Home

Christmas is magical no matter where you live, but these Irish traditions make the holiday a wee bit more special.

Say Merry Christmas in Irish : Nollaig Shona Duit
Speak Irish Merry Christmas in Irish is Nollaig (nol-ag) Shona (hona) Duit (gwit)

Christmas Traditions from Ireland

Light a Candle in the Window on Christmas Eve
A thick, tall candle in the window symbolizes a sign of welcome for Mary & Joseph – though families will now mention that it is helpful for Santa, too. (For safety use an electric candle for this.)

Place a Holly Wreath on Your Front Door
Holly flourishes in Ireland around the holidays and, with its bright colored berries, provided cheery decorations for even the poorest families. Though the Christmas tree is now center-stage, it is rare to find an Irish house without holly.

Decorate on schedule. Decorations were traditionally put up on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and taken down on January 6, Feast of the Epiphany. It was considered bad luck to take decorations down before this date.

A special celebration for the ladies. The “Little Christmas” on January 6 (Feast of the Epiphany) is set aside for the women after all the work of the traditional 12 days of Christmas. Men take over family and home duties for the day.

Not just a fruit cake. A traditional Irish Christmas Cake is a rich cake of fruits and nuts soaked in whiskey. This cake takes 6-8 weeks to make as it is continually ‘fed’ whiskey weekly.

Want to make your own Christmas cake? Here’s a great recipe.

Would you rather buy your Irish Christmas cake? Order one here.

Read James Joyce’s Story, “The Dead”
A short story from Joyce’s Collection “Dubliners“, the tale is rather like and Irish version of “The Christmas Carol” in which a group of Dubliners gather together post-Christmas with reflections of past, present, and future.

References if you wish to know more

Christmas at the House on an Irish Hillside by Felicity Hayes-McCoy is a charming tale of life at the end of the Dingle Peninsula during Christmas time. (Kindle book; Amazon link)

Have a Christmas Hamper shipped to you! The Season Selection and the Irish Christmas Hamper both offer huge baskets of tasty Irish treats specifically for the holiday season. (via The Irish Store)

Read More Articles About Irish Culture

The Symbols of Ireland

Irish sheep at Sheep's Head Peninsula

Quick- what’s the first thing you think of when you think of Ireland?

Green?

OK, now what’s the second thing?

Shamrocks in Ireland
Shamrocks in Ireland

Did you say shamrock? The green tri-leaved clover is often associated with Ireland thanks to St. Patrick who is said to have used the young clover to explain the Holy Trinity to the Celtic kings of Ireland in the 5th century.

Speak Irish: seamair óg (shamir og- it almost sounds like shamrock!) means ‘young plant’ in Irish.

 Symbols of Ireland

The prominence of the shamrock in Irish images, clothing, and tradition might lead you to think that it is the official symbol of Ireland. 

But though it it the flower of Ireland, the official symbol of Ireland is something different….

The Official Symbol of Ireland

Brian Boru Harp at Trinity College
The official emblem of Ireland is the harp. This Celtic harp, called the Brian Boru Harp, from the 14th or 15th century is on display at Trinity College in Dublin.

Ireland’s official emblem is the harp. Or, more specifically, the Celtic harp. The harp used as a model for the Presidential seal and Irish passports (as well as the world-wide symbol of Guinness) is the Brian Boru Harp, which is on display in the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin.

Speak Irish: Cláirseach (clor-shuch) is the Irish word for harp.

Color a Celtic harp (printable)

More Irish Symbols

The shamrock and harp aren’t the only symbols that may cross your mind when you think of Ireland! 

How many of these symbols do you associate with Ireland?

Celtic knots Found on Irish dance dress and jewelry, these ‘never-ending’ knots were inspired by ancient carvings and the Book of Kells. 

Foy School of Irish Dance

Claddagh The heart, hands, and crown signify love, friendship, and loyalty. The claddagh ring is said to have been created by Richard Joyce in the late 17th century. 

gold claddagh ring

Brigid’s Cross This small cross woven of rushes are associated with St. Brigid of Kildare, one of Ireland’s patron saints.  These crosses are usually made to mark St. Brigid’s Day, February 1, and are usually set over doorways or windows to protect the home from harm.

Saint Brigid's cross By Culnacreann

Celtic Cross or High Cross  First appearing in the 9th century the Celtic Cross is a ringed cross on a stepped base. Made of stone these crosses are usually found at monastic centers or churches and are carved to depict biblical scenes.

Celtic Cross at Clonmacnoise, County Offaly, Ireland

Sheep It’s hard to imagine Ireland without sheep dotting the hills!

Irish sheep at Sheep's Head Peninsula

Leprechauns and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow Leprechauns are a fairy of Irish folklore known for cobbling shoes when not playing jokes on unsuspecting humans. Their wealth lies in pots of gold which can only be found at the end of the rainbow. If you capture a leprechaun it is said he will offer you three wishes in exchange for his release!

leprechaun with pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

What other symbols of Ireland can you think of?

References if you wish to know more:

Learn about Celtic knots on Irish dance dresses.

Read the legend of the Claddagh ring.

Learn about the colors of Ireland.