Today is Groundhog Day and in the little town of Punxsutawney, PA, an oddball rodent has garnered our attention just long enough to predict another 6 weeks of winter. Of course depending on where you live, it might have been Gen. Beauregard Lee, Woodstock Willie or Staten Island Chuck doing the prediction. And you know what, according to records kept since 1887, the predictions are about 40% accurate. How’s your local meteorologist compare to that?
So, how on earth did civilized people in two countries come to decided that a groundhog would be the ideal predictor of weather? Did you even know that Canada also has Groundhog Day? Well, they do.
It seems that Groundhog Day stems from a Western European, probably German, tradition that timed the emergence of hibernating bears or badgers to the end of winter. If the day was sunny, there would be six more weeks of winter. As immigrants always do, they had to make do with what they found in their new homeland. With a shortage of bears, they settled on big rodents.
That’s one theory anyway. More likely in my mind is the correlation of Groundhog Day to the ancient pagan traditions of Imbolic and Christian celebration of Candlemas on Feb 2. The ancient church adapted many pagan celebrations into their calendar, simply because they couldn’t totally get the newly converted pagans to give up their parties! Feb 2 is the day dedicated to the Irish pagan goddess Brigid and also the day ancient Christians recognized as the purification of Mary, 40 days following the birth of Jesus. The symbols of both celebrations involve purification ; candles, spring cleaning, turning over the fields to prepare for spring, fire, hearth, cleansing of the body and spirit. Conveniently, this day also comes midway between winter solstice and the spring equinox.
So, in a round- about way, Groundhog Day is the perfect day for a funny, goofy celebration in the middle of cold, dark season that almost always lasts another 6 weeks, but reliably dissolves into spring.