I’ve always loved the word palimpsest. It’s kind of a show-off word – you can’t really throw it casually into a conversation; although I once used it, with a bit of trepidation, in a newspaper column. It’s the way I think about celebrations on top of celebrations, like the first two days of February, which are so complicated I have to start talking about St. Brigid’s Eve today.
Now I see there’s an even better word, even more obscure: syncretism. Syncretism takes the old, pagan stuff, fuses it with Christian stuff, and calls it a feast day. So Brighid was a Celtic goddess of healing, associated with the elements of water and fire. On February 1, 453 AD (when the Christians were in need of quite a few converts), a saintly daughter was born to a man who was told, in a vision, to name her after the goddess. St. Brigit, in addition to healing a lot of people, went on to become Ireland’s first nun, starting a convent at Kildare where a well (water) and a perpetual flame (fire) were dedicated to her.
St. Brigid roams the earth tonight. Place a silk ribbon on your windowsill, and she will give it healing powers; look for her mark in the fire ashes; and gather the morning frost to cure your headache (in case the ribbon didn’t work).