Although I am a much bigger fan of the film Groundhog Day than the celebration of Groundhog Day, today is that day. Today is also notably observed in three other ways, so here are a few thoughts.
Today is when, if the groundhog sees its shadow as it comes out of its den, we have six weeks of winter to go. If the day is cloudy and the groundhog sees no shadow, it takes it as a sign of coming spring and stays above ground. Why a cloudy day would signal an early spring and a sunny day would mean more winter has never made any sense to me.
Native Americans and eventually the Colonists also knew that the behavior of animals (and insects) could predict the weather and perhaps even the coming and going of seasons.
There is an old tradition in European countries of watching animals to see how they behave on this day. Badgers were particularly important to watch and if they returned to their dens, it meant that there was still a long winter ahead. There was no discussion of cloudy days, sunny days or shadows. When German immigrants to Pennsylvania found a shortage of badgers but an abundance of groundhogs, the observance became Groundhog Day.
Of course, in the ancient traditions the animals left their dens on their own. Puxatony Phil doesn’t have that freedom today.
The new tradition goes back to 1841, recorded in the diary of a storekeeper in Morgantown, Pennsylvania who wrote: “Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks’ nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”
That reference to Candlemas points to how these two holidays have been connected.
One old English saying is that:
If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
But if Candlemas day bring clouds and rain,
Winter is gone and won’t come again.
And today is also the time of the ancient Celtic celebration of Imbolc, in honor of Brigit, the goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth. Brigit brings the healing power of the sun back to the world on Imbolc, a day that carries the first promise of spring. Imbolc comes from the Old Irish imbolg, meaning “in the belly,” because this is the time when ewes became pregnant to deliver spring lambs.
As with other ancient and Pagan holidays, like Easter, Christians took over the Celtic celebration and made February 2nd into Candlemas Day to mark the presentation of Jesus at the Temple exactly 40 days after Christmas.