Groundhog Day? Candlemas Day? Either way this is the day that predicts how long our winter will last.
For people in North America, February 2 is Groundhog Day. It’s the day when they’ll watch for a large rodent to come out of its burrow to let them know whether spring will come early or whether winter will hang on. It’s a tradition observed in many areas of North America, but I think the most famous weather-predicting groundhog is from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He is aptly called Punxsutawney Phil, and usually thousands of people go to watch him come out of his burrow on February 2.
If it’s a nice sunny day and Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, that’s bad news. It means we’ll have six more weeks of winter. On the other hand, If it’s a cloudy, rainy day and Phil casts no shadow at all, everyone rejoices. Spring will come early.
Where Did This Tradition Come From?
It’s thought that the tradition of watching groundhogs on February 2 was brought to America from Germany by the Pennsylvania Dutch. But in Germany, they watched for bears, badgers, or hedgehogs to cast their shadows. Supposedly, if the drowsy animal wakes up on February 2 and walks out of its den, burrow, or hedge and sees its shadow, it will turn around and go back to bed for another six weeks of winter.
The good folks of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania have turned Groundhog Day into a fun celebration. However, even though watching a groundhog is easier than looking for a bear, I think it could still be much simpler. We could all just walk outside on February 2 and look for our own shadows. Do we really need animals to tell us if the sun is shining?
February 2 is not only Groundhog Day, it’s also Candlemas Day. But even before that, it was the date of a pagan festival which celebrated the midway point between the winter solstice (beginning of winter) and the spring equinox (beginning of spring). The pagan festival was later turned into a Christian celebration called Candlemas. It commemorates a young Jesus being presented at the temple for the first time. It was also the day when the year’s supply of candles was brought to the church to be blessed.
Candlemas Day has long been a time for predicting the weather––with or without animal shadows. It seems odd to me that good weather predicts bad weather and vice versa, but several old folk sayings bear out this belief.
Old English saying:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, Winter will not come again.
A Scottish saying:
If Candlemas be fine and clear, There’ll be two winters in the year.
The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemas day. If he finds snow, he walks around. But if he sees the sun, he ducks back into his hole.
Another German saying
The shepherd would rather see a wolf enter his stable on Candlemas Day than the sun.
Happy Groundhog Day! Here’s wishing you all a cloudy, rainy, sunless Candlemas Day… And a glorious, early spring.
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