By Mary Jo
I’ve always found Groundhog Day a pleasant and innocuous holiday. One doesn’t have to buy presents, send cards, or make festive meals (though there are times and places when groundhog was on the menu and considered decent eating.) Wikipedia lists many alternate names for the groundhog: chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig, whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk, land beaver, and, among French Canadians in eastern Canada, siffleux. Click the Wikipedia link above to learn lots more entertaining things about the holiday and groundhogs.
The holiday originated in Germanic Europe and the original critter was a badger, though any hibernating mammal would do, even bears. When Germans migrated to the New World, they decided that groundhogs would work nicely for the holiday. The holiday is also celebrated in Canada, but ground zero for Groundhog Day is Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. (European badger picture by Wikipedia Commons. Groundhog picture by SA, Wikipedia Commons.)
Since the release of the movie Groundhog Day, the small town has become a place of pilgrimage and celebration on February 2nd. Some of the locals have fun dressing up and the semi-mythical Punxsutawney Phil lives a quiet and safe life until February 2nd, at which time I’ve read that small electrical shocks are used to drive him out of his burrow for his Big Moment. In the picture, the man on the left has Phil draped over his shoulder. The poor little marmot looks drugged. <G> (Picture by Anthony Quintana, Wikipedia Commons.)
Tradition says that if it’s sunny and the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it’s overcast and he can’t see his shadow, spring will come early. Phil’s prediction rate isn’t very good. Having grown up in the lake effect snow zone of Western New York, I always thought that the idea of winter being over in six weeks was ridiculous. But Phil and Groundhog Day are pretty harmless and it gives meteorologists something to talk about on February 2nd.
February 2nd is also the date is the Christian Candlemas holiday which celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. What I hadn’t realized until I started digging was that Candlemas was grafted onto the older Celtic pagan holiday of Imbolc, the Gaelic pagan celebration that is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Imbolc celebrated the pagan goddess Brigid, who became Christianized St. Brigid, the patron saint of Ireland. She’s associated with fertility and lambing and the emergence of spring. Right is a St. Brigid’s cross woven from reads. (Picture by Culnacreann, Wikipedia)
So the roots of Groundhog Day run very deep. What are your thoughts about the holiday? Do you enjoy it, or feel that the poor little whistlepig should be allowed to sleep in peace?