NATIONAL OBSERVANCE: GROUNDHOG DAY
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2: The Washington Post headline Tuesday night said it all: “Winter Storm Engulfs Huge Swath of U.S.” But hope springs eternal in America and the official Punxsutawney Phil website showed a cheery groundhog and photos of fans making Smores and watching ice sculptors. Yes, today is Groundhog Day and, according to folklore, if a groundhog emerges from his burrow and sees his shadow, we’re supposed to see six more weeks of winter. If the groundhog misses his shadow, then spring will arrive soon. (Unfortunately, the National Climatic Data Center reports that overall accuracy is only at 39 percent. Others argue a higher percentage, and Wikipedia has the details.)
Nowhere is the groundhog more celebrated than in Punxsutawney, Pa., where tens of thousands planned to gather for the famous forecast. The blizzard isn’t the only reason that this year’s ceremony will be bizarre: Groundhog Sammi III died last year and organizers haven’t been able to tame another groundhog, so the stuffed Sammi I will be used in the ceremony. (Here’s an article is in Pennsylvania’s Evening Sun.) Visitors to the festival may socialize over elaborate meals, watch plays, dance and even play games specifically reserved for Groundhog Day. (If you’re in search of games, Kaboose has kid-friendly alternatives, crafts, trivia and more.)
PAGAN: Imbolc, Brigid and Spring’s First Signs
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Imbolc is another way of charting the seasons for those who still overserve these centuries-old customs, especially modern Pagans and Wiccans. Imbolc traditionally marked the first signs of spring, often observed with tasty treats, candles in windows and a sharp eye to see if badgers or snakes emerge from winter dens. (Try blackberry muffins, recipe courtesy of Taste Of Home, which fit nicely with Imbolc themes.)
Imbolc is also known as St. Brigid’s Day or the feast of Brigid and has been marked since the heyday of Gaelic Ireland. Texts from the Middle Ages mention the celebration, although it apparently was lost for a few centuries and then revived in the 20th century. (Wikipedia has details.) Imbolc falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Ancient peoples also welcomed the beginning of lactation in ewes at this time of year, a sign that lambs were coming soon. (ChaliceCentre has more information.) The Gaelic Goddess Brigid is a goddess of poetry and healing, and today, those who still honor her will perform rituals. Brigid is associated with sacred flames, and so the lighting of candles symbolizes both a dedication to Brigid and a welcoming of the return of warmth.
CHRISTIAN: Candlemas and Ending Epiphany
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Lent is fast approaching for the world’s Christians, and today marks the feast that historically ended the Epiphany season: Candlemas. (Get the Catholic perspective at FishEaters, and the Eastern Orthodox view at GoArch.)
Although it’s commonly known as “Candlemas,” the holiday has little to do with candles. More properly, this is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple—recalling traditional Christian accounts of a visit by Mary and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago with the baby Jesus.
Services for Candlemas began with vigils on February 1 in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, followed by a Divine Liturgy this morning. In the Eastern tradition, today is one of 12 Great Feasts, regarded with joy and often accompanied by pancakes, crepes and other fun foods! (Worldwide Gourmet has plenty of Candlemas recipes.) In Mexico, the newborn Christ from the Christmas nativity is dressed in formal clothing for presentation at the church, often followed by a party with plenty of tamales. Some South American countries host elaborate, colorful festivals.
FULL CIRCLE, BACK TO THAT GROUNDHOG IDEA
In the United Kingdom, Candlemas folklore is similar to Groundhog Day! One verse says:
If Candlemas Day is clear and bright
Winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.