Bank holiday is swiftly approaching but this one is different, the first celebrating our matron saint, the goddess Bride. All over Ireland school children have been busily crafting St. Brigid’s crosses from rushes, paper and pretty much anything that can be fashioned into this iconic shape, but what does Brigid mean to them other than this yearly cross making? I mean we can tell stories of her or do we even know them ourselves? That’s a question I posed myself many years ago when I home-schooled my boys, I actually didn’t and neither did the majority of other parents I knew. Isn’t it sad we can’t recall a tale about the most revered woman in Ireland? Not only is she the matron saint, but she is also an ancient Celtic goddess that predates Christianity, and her influence is far deeper than we first believe.
So, where do we begin? With story. Every child likes a good tale, so do I, and that’s where we begin seeking Imbolc, through stories passed down through the generations.
“Brid was the daughter of the Dagda, the high king of the Tuatha De Danann and Danu his Queen. She was not only beautiful with her flaming red hair and smile as bright as the sun, but she was clever and knew the ways of healing and magic. Her kindness to all was legendary, she cared for her people making sure they had enough food and shelter and looked after women and children above all others. She was known far and wide for her care and love of all animals, she owned two great oxen, a giant boar and a ram all of which she protected from being hunted by warriors from other parts of Ireland. Bride was always the first to notice the early signs of spring, when the first snowdrops appeared, or the yellow celandine bloomed, sending the Cailleach and the snow away for another year.”
I guess you might be thinking that was a fairly basic telling of her story but as parents it acts as a really good starting point. There is plenty of scope to build a day full of activities around and what’s more it won’t cost you a penny only a bit of time, that can turn into a brilliant piece of wild parenting. There are literally loads of activities that you can do in all weathers and on the spur of the moment, the great thing is they aren’t just limited to tiddlers, these are suitable for all age ranges. Here’s a few to start you off.
- Go for a walk. Get your coats on and get out somewhere local, I find the best places to go are local parks, which cost nothing and are accessible all year round. Go in search of the signs of spring, look for seedlings coming up in the grass, flowers just beginning to bloom, watch the birds, look for leaf buds on trees and bushes, it’s a great way to look more closely at the world around us, and you can talk about the creatures you can’t see. The ones underground. Helping kids connect with the green world gives them a sense of wonder and makes it easier to introduce them to conservation and ecology. The trick is to not just be the adult and tell them, ask questions and see what they come up with themselves it’s amazing the level of understanding they have, leaves me in awe all the time.
- Indoor story and writing time. Obviously in Ireland it may well rain, but don’t despair you can still do something Imbolc related. Get the family together and do a bit of storytelling. This works really well with younger ones, but older children can really get caught up in expressing themselves too. I would usually begin by talking about spring bringing in stories of how the Cailleach covers the world with snow and ice and how as the weather warms Bride comes along and brings the spring. There are plenty of resources online so search out a few you like and use them. The important thing is to get each person to tell a story they made up. You can get them to draw, paint, sing, write a poem anything as long as you let them lead you. It’s all about expression and coming together like we did hundreds of years ago and sharing stories with the entire family.
- Role play. Indoors or out, role play is a great way to connect with the past and the present. Get everyone to be Brigid or the queen of spring, the magic fairy that gets rid of winter and brings the flowers, anything you can think of really it’s all about imagination. And adults have to play too, get out there and release your inner child. This is another one where the skies the limit, you can bring in anything, creatures, birds, plants and trees everything can be brought to life.
- Plant something. Imbolc is the time of rebirth and what better way to celebrate than planting something in the earth. All kinds of trees and bushes can be planted now, even a potted daffodil from the flower shop or supermarket. It’s a great opportunity to discuss growth and the earth and gives something that can be watched over in the coming year as it grows, blooms and dies ready to regrow next spring. Make it into a celebration, a little ritual to honour the earth. You can talk about how it grows and how important it is to plant things. You can discuss how each plant or tree are homes for lots of different creatures, how they take the carbon dioxide out of the air and change it into oxygen for us to breathe. Again, use your imagination, even get the kids to name it and make it part of the family.
The matron saint face of Brigid is another kind of tale to relate,
Brigid was born to a wealthy family, she was so kind and thoughtful that she often gave away food, clothing and other things to the poor to help them live a little more easily. Her father wasn’t too happy with his daughter giving away all his possessions so he decided to find her a husband, so she could give away his stuff instead. The husband was to be the King of Leinster, but Brigid really didn’t want to get married, she wanted to start a monastery to help the poor people of Ireland. She pleaded with the King who wasn’t too keen on the idea of marrying a girl who might give away all his wealth, and so he granted her permission to become a nun. But Brigid wanted more, she asked the King for land to build her monastery. The King thought a while and then told her she could have whatever land her cloak covered, he didn’t mind giving the tiny space her cloak might cover, so out she went and taking the cloak from her shoulders she threw it outwards. As it touched the ground it began to grow and grow, until it was so big she had enough land to build a monastery and fields to grow food and graze animals. The King was astonished but stood by his word and gave her the land. That’s how Brigid founded her monastery for nuns and monks.
You can do exactly the same kinds of things with this story as the other one. Pick it apart and take what you might want to explore. If you live near Kildare visit the abbey, look for a holy well or talk about giving to others. Discuss it and ask the kids what they found was the best thing, it’s that easy. Visit a church and look for signs of spring in it’s grounds, light a candle, give a donation of clothing to local charities or support food banks, anything that honours Brigid in her Christian form. Discuss ways people can help others in the community, call to elderly neighbours and family just to check and have a chat. For older children Brigid’s way of including monks as well as nuns is a great starting place to discuss inclusivity and how she cared for everybody without distinction.
I hope I’ve given you some inspiration to do something different this bank holiday, maybe we can make it a time of reconnection and joy rather than the run of the mill ones we’re used to. Drop me a line and let me know how you get on and above all have fun.
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