Everyone – even if they’re not Irish – is familiar with St. Patrick’s Day. It’s practically impossible to miss, with its shamrocks, green beer, and the plethora of stuffed leprechauns every March 17th. Fewer people, though, are familiar with the Feast of St. Brigid.
The Feast of St. Brigid marks the beginning of the spring planting season in Ireland. It’s believed that St. Brigid traveled around the Irish countryside on the eve of her feast day, blessing the people, their livestock, and their fields. Traditionally, St. Brigid’s Day is celebrated February 1st.
On St. Brigid’s Eve, families placed a cake or pieces of bread and butter on the windowsill or doorstep to welcome her. Often the bread would be an oatmeal loaf, in the shape of a cross, specially baked for the occasion. Sometimes they placed a sheaf of corn beside it as refreshment for her favorite white cow, which accompanied her.
St. Brigid’s crosses, fashioned from reeds and rushes, were hung over house doors, as well as strips of cloth or ribbon, called St. Brigid’s Mantle. It was said that if St. Brigid touched these cloths, they would have curative powers.
Groups of young people, called Bridie Boys, went from house to house, carrying an effigy of the lady saint. They would entertain with a few songs and maybe a dance, and receive candy, cookies, and sometimes, a few shillings.
And at each door they came to, they’d chant this rhyme:
“Something for poor Biddy;
Her clothes are torn,
Her shoes are worn.
Something for poor Biddy.”