Today, Tuesday February 2nd, is Groundhog Day. The day we we place our faith in our fuzzy friend, Puxsutawney Phil at Gobbler's Knob to tell us how much more winter to expect. Although to be perfectly honest, Phil's predictions have only been accurate 40% of the time. Maybe this year, because of the pandemic, Phil may even refuse to come out of his burrow.
It's hard to believe that this crazy holiday has history rooted in early Christianity. In Luke 2:22-23, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord and also to give a purification offering of two turtledoves or pigeons. Leviticus 12 provides the formula that states that the purification offering be made on day 40 after the birth of a male Israelite. Now for those of you quick on the draw with the math, what little event do we celebrate 40 days prior to Feb. 2?
When fourth century churchmen declared that the nativity of Jesus was to be celebrated on Dec. 25, a festival eventually evolved to celebrate his presentation at the Temple on Feb. 2.In the biblical account of the Presentation, Jesus is proclaimed by the figure of Simeon as “the light to the Gentiles.” This holiday went by many names, but in the English-speaking world it was known as Candlemas
This Christian religious holiday of Candlemas Day has become most commonly associated with the current celebration, but it's roots are older than that. The celebration started in Christianity as the day, (February 2nd), when Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed. This, they felt, would bring blessings to their household for the remaining winter.
As time rolled on the day evolved into another form. The following English folk song highlights the transition to weather prognostication.
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
This “interpretation” of Candlemas Day became the norm for most of Europe. As you can read, there is no mention of an animal of any kind in the preceding song. It wasn't until this traditional belief was introduced to Germany that an animal was introduced into the lore, hence another evolution of February 2nd. If, according to German lore, the hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day there would be a “Second Winter” or 6 more weeks of bad weather.
As German settlers came to what is now the United States, so too came their traditions and folklore. With the absence of hedgehogs in the United States, a similar hibernating animal was chosen. This leads us to yet another evolution in the legend and to present day Punxsutawney. 1886 marked the first time that Groundhog Day appeared in the local newspaper. The following year brought the first official trek to Gobbler's Knob. Each year since then has seen a steady increase in participation of the celebration from people all over the world.
This has always been a favorite holiday. I grew up in rural Nebraska southwest of Lincoln, near a small town called Unadilla. Unless you are from the area you have probably never heard of it but as the state capital for Groundhog Day in Nebraska, Unadilla is famous for its annual celebration. On the first Saturday of each February, the town’s population of 295 people more than doubles and a stuffed rodent (a taxidermy groundhog called Unadilla Bill, who has been around since the 1980's) named after a former lieutenant governor is the center of attention. With a parade, led by Unadilla Bill himself placed on the hood of a car, members of the community gather for a breakfast, fun events, and even a king and queen competition.
So here's hoping you have a great Groundhog Day and remember, in the spirit of Candlemas, to take the opportunity to be a blessing to others and "Be A Light"...