01 February 2011

1 February - Saint Brigid; Bairin Breac; Candlemas Eve

Today is the Feast of Saint Brigid of Ireland (died 525), a patroness of that country and her sons and daughters everywhere.

She was an intensely spiritual and generous woman who founded several convents throughout Ireland, the most famous and influential being the double monastery at Kildare.

Her kindness was extended not only to the poor (she gave food and sometimes heirlooms to whomever begged it of her, to the consternation of her family), but also to animals.  This is a good day to make donations of food and money to soup kitchens and animal shelters.  As she is also associated with fire, donations to help people pay their utility bills would be another way to honor her.

As with so many beloved saints, legends and stories have grown up around her, and she is often used to further certain agendas.  The Catholic Encyclopedia sums it up best: "Viewing the biography of St. Brigid from a critical standpoint we must allow a large margin for the vivid Celtic imagination and the glosses of medieval writers, but still the personality of the founder of Kildare stands out clearly..."

Put up St. Brigid's Cross to protect your house.  Instructions for making one are here at Fisheaters (with an excellent step-by-step diagram) and here at Ireland's Eye.

   To determine whether the coming year will be prosperous, you will need a sheaf of oats (good luck finding that, especially at this time of year), a wooden club, and a fireplace or something else that is likely to hold ashes.
   Let the women of the family dress the oat sheaf in female clothes and put the figure in a basket with a wooden club laying beside it.
   Just before going to bed, cry three times "Briid is come, Briid is welcome!"
   Tomorrow morning, look among the ashes for an impression of Briid's club; if it is there, the year will be prosperous; if not, not. 

BAIRIN BREAC (Barm Brack), a yeast bread of spices and dried fruit, is traditional for today (and it is even better on the second day)

[The spice can be allspice (as here given), or mixed spice, or mix your own with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 of cloves and nutmeg]

Heat 3/4 cup of milk and 3/4 cup of water to lukewarm.
In a large bowl, sift together 3-1/2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of allspice, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 cup of sugar.

Dissolve 1 package of active dry yeast in half of the warm milk/water.  Add the yeast and the other half of the milk/water to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board.  Knead the dough until it no longer feels sticky, and comes cleanly off of the board.

Wash and grease the bowl.  Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a cloth, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1-1/2 hours.

Again, turn the dough onto a floured board and flatten to form a large round.  In the middle, place 3 tablespoons of butter and 2 cups of fruit: raisins, sultanas, currants, candied peel (orange, lemon, citron), candied cherries.  [The amounts of each are up to you.  If you like more fruit, add more.  One recipe I found calls for 1 cup each of the first three on the list, with another 1/2 cup of the candied peel.]

Using your hands, work the fruit and butter into the dough (kneading and squeezing) until they are evenly mixed in.  Put the dough into a greased loaf pan, cover, and let rise in a warm place until it reaches the top of the pan, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 450 degrees F.   Bake in preheated oven for about 50 minutes, reducing the heat to 425 degrees F for the last 15 minutes of baking. 

Tomorrow being Purification, aka Candlemas, today is Candlemas Eve.

Ahem!  By now, you should have taken down your Christmas decorations.  Really.  You'll have to do it sometime, you know, unless you want to dedicate one room in your house to look like Ye Olde Christmase Shoppe.

Take warning from Robert Herrick, for there is a penalty for leaving the Christmas decorations up past today:

Candlemas Eve

Down with the Rosemary, and so
Down with the Baies and Misletoe;
Down with the Holly, Ivie, all
Wherewith ye drest the Christmas Hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least Branch there left behind:
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.

All Christmas decorations in the church must be taken down today as well.  The goblins will also follow you home if you have any 'leaves' in your family pew or box, so send a servant to carefully sweep it out [make sure it is a servant who likes you, or he might leave a few pine needles and holly leaves on purpose].