Tomorrow night, people of Celtic ancestry across the world will be observing the Gaelic festival of Beltane. Celebrated on the last night of April, Beltane is a fire festival, welcoming the beginning of summer and open pasturing. Continue reading Beltane
A couple of years ago, I decided to give my mother a compilation of her direct maternal lineage for a Mother’s Day gift. After spending years researching my historical mothers, I displayed pertinent records and newly found photos in a printed photo book. Not only did the gift bring my mother to joyful tears, but it sparked her own interest in genealogy. She is now a member of the Santa Barbara Genealogical Society, and frequently attends genealogy classes and workshops. It was the gift that keeps on giving.
Tracing a maternal lineage is quite challenging, and I had to overcome a few obstacles to create this gift. Female ancestors are especially difficult to find in cultures where women take their husband’s last name as their own. There have been times in history where women were not allowed to own property, pay taxes, vote, or go to college. Finding maiden names in these time periods could be near impossible. But it is not only the maiden name that can be hard to find, sometimes even the first name can be masked by the formality of addressing a women only in regards to her husband, like Mrs. Dwight Willard instead of Mrs. Shirley Willard. Continue reading Honoring Mothers
Having Irish ancestry on both my paternal and maternal sides, Irish customs and holidays are important to me. In the United States, Irish ancestry is common due to the vast migration of Irish citizens to America. This could be why St. Patrick’s Day is such a widely celebrated event, even though it is not an American holiday. I wonder how many St. Patrick’s Day revelers know the celebration’s origins, though, or know exactly why they are celebrating. Continue reading St. Patrick’s Day
My love for my Welsh heritage has sent me on a mission to embrace Welsh culture. It is great to know your ancestry, and tracing your family tree is very satisfying. I feel like there needs to be some action taken with the information you find, though, or what is the point in finding it? Now that I have traced my family, and I have taken my DNA test, I know the origins of my forefathers. I am now taking action to learn about some of the traditions of the countries of my heritage in an effort to bring them to life for my generation. Continue reading The Patron Saint of Wales
In “Can You Feel Your Roots?” I spoke of my love of all things Celtic. I grew up fascinated with the Celtic culture, although at the time, I didn’t know why. Growing up, my family culture was predominantly German. I was always a bit uninterested in these ancestors, so I have spent very little time researching them. Recently, however, I have begun to dig into these German roots as well, and have also come to appreciate this side of my DNA. Continue reading Pennsylvania Dutch
Across the world this February 14th, people will be declaring their love for one another. It is something we all do on Valentine’s Day, but have you ever wondered where it all began? In a nutshell, Valentine’s Day originated to honor St. Valentine. I learned, however, that Valentine was not one man, but three different men (all named Valentine) who may have been the St. Valentine eventually honored by the Church. One of these Valentines was a priest who went against Roman rule and performed wedding ceremonies for soldiers. It was thought that unmarried men made better soldiers, so marriage was banned. Valentine went against the rule and married them anyway. Another Valentine was supposedly a saint who fell in love with the daughter of a man holding him prisoner. He wrote a letter, signed “From your Valentine”, thus being the first man ever to write a valentine. Lastly, there was the Valentine who helped Christians escape from Roman prisons, and who was later declared a martyr. Continue reading Day of Love
In most households in the United States, February 1st will be spent gathered around the television watching the Super Bowl. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Celtic people of ancient times would have been celebrating Imbolc (i-molk). What is Imbolc, you might ask? It was the ancient pagan celebration of the Celtic people ushering in the spring season. Imbolc was also a time for “divining” the weather. This was perhaps a forerunner for our Groundhog Day. Imbolc was widely celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. As these are all places to which I have traced my family tree, I thought I should find out what this tradition entailed.
Imbolc, celebrated on February 1st, is one of four Gaelic festivals centered around the seasons. It occurs halfway between the winter and spring equinox, and was originally begun as a celebration for the Celtic goddess Brigid, who was the goddess of fire. Brigid was thought to visit house to house on Imbolc. Her followers would leave her gifts of food and clothing, as well as a bed in which to sleep, all in hopes of receiving her blessing. They made Brigid’s Crosses, which were small crosses woven with rushes or straw and placed in the home. The ancient Celts believed that the cross would protect them from evil, as well as protect their homes from fire, as Brigid was the goddess of fire.
Traditions of Imbolc were mainly centered around the home, and spring cleaning was very important. Feasts were held, prayers were raised, and candles were lit. Bonfires were important, as fire was thought to represent purification. People visited holy wells, and the water from the well was used to bless homes.
Today, this pagan holiday has been Christianized, and transformed into a celebration of St. Brigid of Kildare, Ireland’s most important female saint. St. Brigid was an Irish nun who lived from about 450-525. She was supposedly born to a mother who was a Pictish Christian and a father who was a pagan clan chieftain. She was named Brigid by her father in honor of the Celtic goddess. When Brigid converted to Christianity, her pagan father was obviously not pleased. He tried to dissuade her, but Brigid was solid in her convictions. Brigid went on to found Kildare Abbey, as well as other convents, and was eventually made a saint. She is the patron saint of many things, babies, abused children, poets, travelers, and scholars, just to name a few.
The festival in honor of St. Brigid is widely celebrated today. Some of the ancient traditions associated with Imbolc have been absorbed into celebrations for St. Brigid’s Day. People still celebrate by visits to holy wells, and special foods are eaten. Some of these foods are colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage), dumplings, barmbrack (yeasted bread with raisins), or oaten breads.
While I am neither Catholic nor pagan, this tradition is quite fascinating to me. The idea of a holiday centered around hearth and home, spent with the people I love is appealing, and my home can definitely benefit from a good spring cleaning! If you would like to celebrate something other than the Super Bowl on February 1st, maybe you can incorporate some of these traditions into your day. I am including a recipe for St. Brigid’s Oaten Bread from Travel Ireland. I plan to try this recipe myself, and I may even share it with my husband while he forces me to watch the Super Bowl.
Written by Heidi
St. Brigid’s Oaten Bread
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, in small pieces
3/4 cup uncooked oatmeal (old fashioned)
1/2 cup buttermilk
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Grease a baking sheet.
Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add butter bits and cut in with knife until mixture is crumbly. Add oats and mix well.
Beat the egg with the buttermilk in a separate bowl.
Make a “well” in the dry ingredients, then pour in the egg mixture and mix all with a fork until the crumbs hold together. Form the dough into a ball and knead (on a floured surface, about 20-25 times). Add flour if the mass is still too sticky to work with.
Form the doughball into 8-inch round and transfer it to the baking sheet.
Score a deep cross into the bread but do not cut through.
Bake for fifteeen to twenty minutes, or until medium brown and a tester comes out clean