Today, February 2nd, is Groundhog Day! Across the nation, Americans will watch to see if Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow when he wakens and comes out of his hole in the ground. A bright sunny day means a shadow and six more weeks of winter, while a gray overcast day means no shadow and a sign that spring is coming. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?
The origins of Groundhog Day are centuries old and rooted in our ethnic cultures and religious traditions. Many cultures believed that animals awakened on specific dates, and nature influenced their daily life. In Europe, February 2nd is the Christian Festival of Lights Day also know as Candlemas Day. This ancient festival marked the midpoint of winter, half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The weather on Candlemas was important, as many songs and verses would portray:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
The Germans, being of both minds, believed that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, the hedgehog would awaken and see his shadow foretelling six more weeks of winter. Pennsylvania's earliest settlers were German, so they decided that the groundhog, being much like a hedgehog, would also predict six more weeks of winter if he came out of his underground home on February 2nd to see his shadow on a sunny day in Punxsutawney.
Ridiculous? Maybe. However this day is an important reminder to farmers, then and now. No matter whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, it is only the midpoint of winter. They should still have half of their hay left. If not it means lean times ahead until spring.
Lori C Lewis