Groundhog Day / Imbolc: Can a shadow predict spring’s arrival?

Groundhog on ground looking away from camera

What will Punxsutawney Phil predict this year? Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Will he—or won’t he?

That’s the question asked by thousands of spectators in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and millions more following the story digitally. Will the groundhog see his shadow?

Tradition holds that, if a groundhog emerging from his burrow sees his shadow, winter will last another six weeks; if the groundhog does not see his shadow, an early spring is in store. Though much of the United States will be covered in snow on Groundhog Day 2015—with forecasters predicting a winter far from over—spectators will be left wondering until the much-anticipated emergence of the furry woodland creature.

The most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, resides in Pennsylvania, and his predictions have been publicized in beloved tradition for more than a century. This year, head on over to the official Punxsutawney website for information on the celebrations that last for days—dining, parties, music and much more are included.

Did you know? In Alaska, Feb. 2 is known as Marmot Day, since few groundhogs live in Alaska.

Origins of Groundhog Day lie in the ancient pagan holiday known as Imbolc, which falls between winter solstice and the spring equinox. Similar “prediction” holidays have existed around the world for hundreds of years, with native groups looking to a variety of hibernating animals, from bears to snakes (Wikipedia has details). Phil was declared the official forecasting groundhog of America in 1887, when the city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper made the declaration and began publishing stories about the groundhog.

Wondering what groundhogs really do on Groundhog Day? National Geographic offers the scoop on a different prediction.

IMBOLC:
PAGAN & WICCAN WELCOME TO SPRING

An ancient Gaelic festival that once was observed across Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, Imbolc honors the goddess Brigid and has long been associated with the coming of spring. (Wikipedia has details.) Gaelic for “ewe’s milk,” in honor of lactating sheep (and the new life of spring that they represent), Imbolc is, by some accounts, more than 12,000 years old. Traditionally, Imbolc was observed on Feb. 1, but today, dates vary.

In Gaelic Ireland, enormous feasts were held for Imbolc. The goddess Brigid was invoked for the blessing of livestock, homes were cleaned, and Brigid’s cross was fashioned and hung on front doors. Brigid was said to visit favored households on Imbolc Eve; in return, families would set aside feasting food and drink for her. The hag of Gaelic tradition, Cailleach, is said to have gathered firewood as a prediction of weather, and in some areas, snakes and woodland creatures are watched as they emerge from their homes and hibernation.

Today, feasts continue for Imbolc in some regions (the International Business Times reported, with photos from recent celebrations). Some adherents still follow ancient rituals, by visiting holy wells and molding Brigid crosses.

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