Type in Imbolc or Lá Fhéile Bríde into most search engines and you will get pages and pages of information on family activities. Generally those pages will be focusing on two specific things, a Brideog and a Brigid's Cross. A Brideog is a doll made from straw or rushes that symbolizes Bríde and is traditionally made with a Bríde's bed for the doll to sleep in made out of a basket and a cloth. You'll read of little girls making the dolls the night before and the men welcoming the doll into the home. On the day of Lá Fhéile Bríde they will parade their dolls down the street shouting cute little phrases. What you won't read about this activity is the origin. While I won't speak about the antiquity of the project I wouldn't, at this point, consider it an activity that would be specific for a Celtic Reconstructionist child if relating it to the ancient Celts.
In regards to the Brigid's Cross, you will find various websites that will show you how to make them, that will sell you pre-made ones or even include charms for pendants. There are schools that will show you children with their freshly made crosses as they sit at their desks in their little uniforms. Again, what you won't find is the origin of this practice, but the simple fact that it is a cross and that Bride did become a saint during Pope Sergius I’s reign, it is probably a safe bet that this is also not an activity the pre-Christian Celts would have participated in. That doesn't at all invalidate either practice.
Because in the Reconstructionist realm we try to take that which is ancient and place it into a modern world, the traditions of Brideog and Brigid's Cross making are as traditional and modern as you can get. I completely recommend if you are a Celtic Reconstructionist and specifically an Irish Reconstructionist to take part in these activities with your children. What better way to share in the love of the country you take your beliefs from than participating in activities that children your child's age do in that country? It is also a good teaching opportunity, depending upon the age of your child, to start teaching them the difference between that which the modern practitioners do as opposed to what the ancestors did. Making those types of distinctions are important in the Reconstructionist world because it also helps children understand the difference between the ancients and us.
With that said, and those modern practices set aside, what does a Celtic Reconstructionist do as an activity with their child to fully understand how the ancestors connected with this time of year? Well, food is always one of the first things to come to mind and in this case, food is what your child can help with. While, depending upon the age of your child, they may be able to help you cook the holy day feast, there is one activity that even a toddler can enjoy with you.
Because the ancients acknowledgement of Imbolc relied heavily on the first milk produced by sheep and goats, dairy is obviously very important. That production of dairy signaled the slow return of the light into Spring and the return of their agricultural nourishment. With dairy playing such a huge role in this time period what better way to celebrate the day than making your own butter? Now, one could be completely gungho and go break out grandma's old churn, or see if there is a local farming or antique store that might carry one if you are feeling adventurous, but there is a much simpler way to do it and it involves three things.
To prepare for your butter making experience you need a clean jar or container with a lid, heavy whipping cream (salt to taste, if you prefer) and a few pairs of hands. You just pour the whipping cream into the jar, secure the lid so it is on nice and tight and start shaking. My twenty month old loved this. He sat on Dad's knee and put both hands on the sides and held on tight. He giggled non-stop for the entire time Daddy helped him shake it. Then came Mommy's turn and when my arms felt like they were going to fall off it went back to Daddy. Of course he kept asking me when will we know it's done?
Basically it becomes thin whipped cream, then thick whipped cream and then you will notice a liquid starts to form, but the jar seems to get heavier. It will take you about 20 minutes to finally see the results of the activity, but it is well worth it. In the end you have fresh made butter and an activity that your children will remember forever. It's a great game that everyone gets to reap the benefits of and it truly helps you appreciate what our ancestors went through to get something we take for granted. What a great way to teach children to appreciate what they have?
Side note - Another great activity is involving them in bread making as well. You need something to put your finished butter on.
Author: Blackbird O'Connell
Irish Reconstructionist Parent
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