Thursday, February 02, 2006

Happy Groundhogmas

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Ever wondered why someone would pay attention to a prognisticating groundhog? Here's an interesting note about the background from Wikipedia.

The tradition of Groundhog Day originated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2, 1887. In the United States, the tradition derives from a Scottish couplet:
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
there'll be two winters in the year.

This tradition also stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and Hedgehog Day. Candlemas is the feast of the Presenatation of Christ (the "Light of the Word") in the Temple and marks his recognition as such by the old prophet Simeon. Hedgehog Day was observed by the Romans during the Festival of Februa on February 2. It is believed that when a hibernating hedgehog emerges from its den on Hedgehog Day and sees its shadow, there is a clear moon and six more weeks of winter. This popular holiday in Europe was then copied by the original American settlers as Groundhog Day, replacing the hedgehog with a groundhog since there are no native hedgehogs in the Americas.

Although the date is often referred to as one of the four quarter days of the year (the midpoints between the spring and fall equinoxes and the summer and winter solstice), it is in fact one of the cross-quarter days and has roots in the pagan festival of Imbolc and the Celtic festival of Brigid. Indeed, bright, clear weather in a North American winter is often associated with very cold temperatures.

In western countries in the Northern Hemisphere the official first day of Spring is about six weeks after Groundhog Day, on March 20 or 21. About 1,000 years ago, before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar when the date of the equinox drifted in the Julian calendar, the spring equinox fell on March 16 instead. This was exactly six weeks after February 2. Assuming that the equinox marked the first day of spring in certain medieval cultures, as it does now in western countries, Groundhog Day occurred exactly six weeks before spring. Therefore, if the groundhog saw his shadow on Groundhog Day there would be six more weeks of winter. If he didn't, there would be 42 more days of winter.

In other words, the Groundhog Day/Hedgehog Day tradition may have begun as a bit of folk humor. As for my own prognistications, I predict that whether the weather is cloudy or sunny today, we'll still have no winter here in Texas.


Anonymous said...

You are just a fount of information---I love that about you.

Fr. Christopher Cantrell SSC said...

This was the one I was talking about at CCU this afternoon!