Groundhogs, Candles, Snowdrops and Thoughts About Spring

Candlemas Bells, also known as Snowdrops

I pay attention to when plants in my area begin to show signs of spring. I like having snowdrops (AKA Candlemas Bells) in the garden and around the house. They are bulb plants that you should plant closely together to create a snowy blanket of Galanthus nivalis.

I can’t say that they are very good at predicting the end of winter or coming of spring because, as the “snow” in their name suggests, they are just early bloomers. Sometimes they bloom in February and they may not even wait for the snow to melt before emerging. But, they are a cheering sight, even if it doesn’t mean the cold weather is gone.

The pile of snow in Paradelle today is higher this morning than from the blizzard that went north last week, and that immediately puts me in the mood to watch Groundhog Day again.

I have watched it plenty of times already, but it is kind of the perfect film to watch over and over, and especially on this Groundhog Day.

I have written about it in more detail (see The Zen of Groundhog Day) but it’s a film that has a lot more to it than just being a funny Bill Murray/Harold Ramis comedy. A web search on the film will turn references to philosophy, Buddhism, Zen, and certainly some of that was intentional.

Harold Ramis (director & co-writer) said that he got mail from Jesuit priests, rabbis and Buddhists, and they all find meaning in the film, use it in sermons, talks and classes. But you don’t need to see it as a version of the Buddhist cycle of continual rebirth. It is a tale that starts out as cynical-funny and ends up sweet-funny.

But you have at least four things you might celebrate today, February 2nd. The one that gets the most media attention is Groundhog Day, but there are some ways to connect all of them.

Saint Brigid’s cross

This is the ancient Celtic holiday of Imbolc that honored Brigid (or Brigit), goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth.

Yesterday was Saint Brigid’s feast day.

On this day, she brought the healing power of the sun back to the world. See a connection to our modern Groundhog Day?

Imbolc comes from the Old Irish imbolg, meaning “in the belly”  probably because it was the time when ewes became pregnant to deliver spring lambs.


Like many “pagan” holidays, February 2 became a Christian holiday. Candlemas Day marks the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after Christmas. People brought candles to church to be blessed and for a time some also brought their Brigid’s crosses too. The fire element is important to the pagan and the Christian traditions. One tradition says was that Saint Brigid put a ring a lighted candles on her head and led the Virgin Mary into the temple in Jerusalem. Besides Candlemas, the day is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. Some of the same traditions are held in Italy, where it is called Candelora.

The ancients paid careful attention to the movement of the Sun and Moon and today is also “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. That means it falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox. It would have been a day to consider that winter was halfway over and spring was at least in sight and in your thoughts. Observers of nature could also find evidence of this.

Though animals pay no attention to our calendars (Unless we force them to come out in this day!), this was a time when in some parts of Europe and America that some animals might emerge from their winter dens.

Quite logically, if an animal emerged and found a blizzard or bitter cold, they were likely to head back in and wait out winter for a few more (maybe 6?) weeks. Humans viewed this behavior as an omen and believed that the animals had some better sense of what was to come in the weather.  In some mix of Imbolc, Saint Brigid, Candlemas and the cross-quarter, today became the day to pay particular attention to the behavior of animals (badgers in German tradition and bears in France) on this day to see if they emerged or returned to their dens.

I like to read about weather lore and Candlemas (or whatever you want to call this day) has long been connected to predicting the end of winter and start of spring.

If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again.

German immigrants in Pennsylvania didn’t find many badgers, but there were a lot of groundhogs and so we have Groundhog Day. The celebration goes back to the mid-1800s. It has become ridiculously commercialized (which the film pokes fun at) but the idea that if the groundhog sees its shadow and goes back in, it is another six weeks of winter has roots in traditions and observations from our past.

For 2015, Phil the groundhog in Pennsylvania saw his shadow. Big surprise on this snowy day: spring is still a month and a half away.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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