Winter . . . Spring . . . Let’s Ask Phil!

Feb 2nd

Today is Groundhog Day – as odd as this is to admit, I’ve known what Groundhog Day is about . . . sort of . . . all my life, but I never bothered to pay attention to the details – like how it all started or why.  Just about every elementary school student colors a picture of his cute furry little face in school.  Even as a little girl it never made sense to me that a critter seeing his shadow – or not – would have anything whatsoever to do with the future weather, but I remember closing my eyes tight and wishing with everything in me that he saw his shadow since that meant more winter  I always loved winter and was never ready for it to be over.  I still feel that way.  I’d be more than thrilled if we had snow most of the time.  Anyway, today I’ve learned a bit more about this incredible weather predictor who comes out each year to determine whether spring is around the corner or if we have more winter in store.  Groundhog Day is celebrated in the United States each year on February 2nd.  It is on this mid-winter day that our little groundhog friend wakes up from his slumber, goes outside of his den, and looks around to see if he can see his shadow.  On a day that is otherwise cold and dreary, this tradition is a bit of a pick-me-up.   The legend is that if the groundhog sees his shadow (on a sunny morning), that we will have six more seeks of winter.  He’ll crawl back into his little hole and fall back to sleep for a few more weeks. If he does NOT see his shadow (a cloudy day) he will play around outside of his den for awhile, and spring will be just around the corner.   Have you ever wondered HOW we came to have this lovely story and tradition?  Well, it comes from German roots.  German immigrants brought this tradition with them, and as they settled into the hills of Pennsylvania, they began the tradition of using the groundhog to predict the coming of spring.  The day that is the midpoint between winter and spring is Candlemas, and that is what this tradition is based upon. There is a Candlemas poem that goes like this:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

The site of the annual Groundhog event is Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Our little furry friend has been named Punxsutawney Phil.  There are other winter/spring predictor’s around the country, but I get the impression that  they are more like Santa’s helpers are to him – they do the job because Punxsutawney can’t be everywhere at once for all the people.  Phil’s the top dog . . .um. . . hog.

I found this trivia about Groundhog’s Day on this site – it’s pretty interesting!

1. Yes, Punxsutawney Phil is the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just impostors.

2. There has been only one Punxsutawney Phil. Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking “groundhog punch” (a secret recipe). One sip, which is administered every summer at the Groundhog Picnic, gives him seven more years of life.

3. On February 2nd, Phil comes out of his burrow on Gobbler’s Knob, in front of thousands of faithful followers from all over the world, to predict the weather for the rest of the winter.

4. According to legend, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.

5. No, Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasts are not made in advance by the Inner Circle. After Phil emerges from his burrow on February 2nd, he speaks to the Groundhog Club President in Groundhogsese. His proclamation is then translated for the world.

6. The celebration of Groundhog Day began with the Germans, Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers. They brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day, which states “For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May…”. The settlers found that groundhogs were plentiful and were the most intelligent and sensible animal to carry on the legend of Candlemas Day.

7. Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day in the 1800’s. The first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob made on February 2nd, 1887. In 2008 it will be the 122nd prediction.

8. So the story goes, Punxsutawney Phil was named after King Phillip. Prior to being called Phil, he was called Br’er Groundhog.

I thought it was interesting that the other celebration we have today is Candlemas, and it’s connected to Groundhog’s Day!  I’ve never known what Candlemas was before today, and I’m so glad that now I know.  Candlemas is on February 2nd on the modern calendar, and on February 15th on the Julian calendar.  It is the last holiday of the Christmas season, and is a Christian festival – the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.  It is also a celebration of the annual blessing of  candles that are used by the church.  According to Jewish customs, women were thought to be “unclean” after the birth of a child.  This time of being unclean lasted 40 days after the birth of a son, and 60 days after the birth of a daughter (someday I’m going to ask God about why the difference!).  During this time they were not allowed into the temple to worship.  When her time of being unclean was over though, she was brought to the temple and there was a purification ceremony.  After she gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary was purified on Candlemas – or the Feast of Purification.  In Christian churches, candles represent Jesus as the light, the truth and the way – and the candles used during the year in the church are blessed on this day.

Sometimes I am amazed by how secular holidays evolve from those with deep spiritual meaning . . . but in many cultures this is how those spiritual events are passed from generation to generation.  As you go about your day, whether we are in for more winter, or soon to see spring, have a glad heart – for every season is beautiful and to be celebrated.  God bless you.

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