This is the ideal time for you to have a look at what's happening around you. You may notice the day is beginning to get longer, the animals are beginning to wake up after hibernation, the now is beginning to melt (for those of you who were lucky enough to have snow this year) and traces of green can be seen on the land. I believe that the picture on the left wonderfully depicts all these natural processes.
This portrait of Mother Earth waking up from her winter slumber is the perfect metaphor for Imbolc when all life that surrounds us truly does wake up. Even people start to feel their energy returning after the long winter months.
The Wheel of the Year has just begun to turn; the (Blue) God is still young and fragile but grows stronger with each day. The Goddess, which is a Maiden at the moment, nurses him and gives him strength. She is still inexperienced but full of life's energy which she gives to the God but also to the earth and all its living creatures.
The Celtic (and original) name for this feast is immolg and can be separated into two words: i molg meaning "in the belly". This can be referring to Mother Earth's womb but can just as easily signify the natural processes that occur during this time of the year. February is the time when the pastures are full of newborn lambs and ewe's milk overflows buckets. This is where the second name for this holiday (or rather for Candlemas) comes from - Oimelc, which can literally be translated into "ewe's milk". Milk is thus regularly used in cookery and rituals related to Imbolc.
In agriculture, this is the time when sowing preparations are begun in the hopes of all the crops yielding in the spring. Other branches don't lack life around this time; even fishermen take out their boats and go fishing once more. And all of this is made possible because of the longer days and warmer weather!
The main focus during this time of the year is on fertility, cleansing and the coming of spring. Imbolc is celebrated halfway between the winter solstice (Yule) and the spring equinox (Ostara). It is a transitional period when the lengthening of the day becomes apparent. In order to encourage the Sun to grow, a common practice is lighting fires (as it is with almost all Celtic festivals). But the emphasis is more on the light than the warmth of the fires. This is why crowns of light are also worn (crowns or reefs with candles or other sources of light) in both Paganism and Christianity alike.
With the spring also comes fertility! Key symbols of this period are thus seeds and buds, and an especially celebrated symbol is the snowdrop which is one of the first flowers that can be seen on the snow-covered earth. The emphasis is also on giving birth. This is why straw is a commonly used material for decorations since it has been used for ages to make birthing beds for both humans and animals. Brighid's crosses are made from this material as well as straw dolls which represent the goddess Brighid herself. These dolls are called Brideogs (pronounced /bri:dʒog/) and are made of straw or similar materials, dressed in white cloth dresses and adorned with greenery, flowers, shells and other symbols of fertility and spring.
The aspect of cleaning is most visible in the phenomenon of spring cleaning when not only the house is cleaned from top to bottom, but when order is brought back into every aspect of our lives. This is the time when people get rid of any unnecessary objects and burdens (material, spiritual and emotional). This is done in order to make room for new experiences, people, necessary things and new beginnings.
You can read much more on the traditions of this festival in this post, but I believe its aspects and aura will best stick with you through a few inspirational pictures. :) Enjoy them as well as your celebration, no matter how you decide to mark it!
Have a blessed, happy, inspired and enlightened Imbolc! :D