Groundhog Day ~ a short tutorial

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

Surely, all eyes will be turning northward to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, this Saturday to see whether we’ll have an early spring or six more weeks of winter.

While it is fun to watch a man in a top hat holding a wriggling and irritable groundhog for the cameras, realists among us know that no matter what Punxsutawney Phil sees on Saturday, we’re due for six more weeks of winter. 

After all, the date of the spring equinox doesn’t change, notwithstanding the predictions of a famous groundhog.

Although, I have it on good authority that it thaws a little bit every day in February.

It seems Groundhog Day stems from two ancient Celtic festivals which occurred halfway through winter. 

One, which fell at lambing time was called Imbolc or lamb’s milk. 

The other, Brigantia, was named for the Celtic goddess of light who was believed to call to the sun to bring on the spring.
Christianity eventually supplanted these festivals with its festival of light called “Candlemas,” so named for the candles lit in churches to celebrate the presentation of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem.

Since the ancient and traditional celebrations at this time of year anticipated the planting of crops, Candlemas festivities featured the forecasting of either an early spring or a lingering winter.

If it was sunny on Candlemas it meant six more weeks of winter. 

If it was cloudy that day, farmers could look forward to warmer weather and being able to get their fields ready for planting.

Our Groundhog Day is the descendant of those Celtic and English traditions.  

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