The Second of February


The second day of February is a busy day for holidays and observances.

I feel bad for all the confused and trapped groundhogs today. We humans can be so foolish sometimes. Perhaps, some creatures in the wild did venture out today to see what was happening in the world. Maybe some of them saw the sun, a shadow, or a pile of snow. I’m thinking that either way they went back in their den because they know it’s not spring. That’s for sure. Spring is 46 days away in my hemisphere no matter what happened to critters today.

Here’s an optimistic take on today: this is a cross-quarter day – Imbolc – which marks the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. We’re halfway to spring. Winter is half over.

I planted snowdrops a few years ago and I’m sure they are still there – under about two feet of snow, which is a kind of blanket. They are being patient and waiting for the sun ( as Jim Morrison once wrote and sang).

I also lit a candle today because it’s Candlemas. The candle is unconsecrated but that’s okay. According to weather lore, the snow today means some spring-like days are ahead in the next six weeks.

Go back to your dens. Wear a mask (or two) if you go out. Better days are coming.

snow candle

Candelora and Winter Weather

Per la Santa Candelora se nevica o se plora, dell’inverno siamo fora, ma se è sole o solicello, siamo sempre a mezzo inverno
(“For the Holy Candelora, if it snows or if it rains, we are through with winter, but if there is sunshine or even just a little sun, we are still in the middle of winter”)


Candelora is a Roman Catholic religious festival celebrated in Italy on February 2. This year the day is also the American Groundhog Day, Super Bowl of football – and another day of the impeachment proceedings for President Trump. The Presentazione del Signore (Presentation of Our Lord) had been called the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.

It is more popularly called the feast of Candelora and in English-speaking countries, it is known as Candlemas Day (Candle Mass).

On Candlelora, all the candles to be used in the church throughout the year are consecrated as the symbolic “light of the world.”

At one time, the custom that a Jewish woman, including Jesus’ mother, would be considered impure for the 40 days after the delivery of a male child and were not allowed to worship in the temple. After the 40 days, these women were brought to the temple to be purified.

February 2 is 40 days after December 25, the day the Church marks the birth of Jesus. This traditional Christian festival also marks the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple, a holiday was observed by Christians in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century AD. By the middle of the fifth century, the celebration included lighting candles to symbolize Jesus Christ as the light, and the ritual of blessing of the candles became common practice around the eleventh century.

The “coincidence” of our Groundhog Day being on the same day is one of the weather.  As the proverb of weather lore stated on the top of this post shows, noting the weather on February 2 is supposed to predict the weather for the remaining six weeks of winter.

Is it another coincidence that February 2 is also a cross-quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox? No coincidences.  Some people of the Northern Hemisphere have believed for millennia that if the sun comes out at the mid-way point between winter and spring, winter weather would continue for another six weeks. I have always thought that it seems more logical that NO sun on this day would suggest that winter would continue, but that’s not the tradition.

Since the sixteenth century, North American folklore has followed some old European traditions that if on February 2 a groundhog/woodchuck comes out of its hole after winter hibernation and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If on the other hand, it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, it will retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.

The weakest part of our modern American celebration is that those poor groundhogs do not “emerge” naturally from their burrows because of some internal clock, environmental conditions or planetary magic. They are forced into the public.

There are some scientific bases for using signs in nature to predict the change of seasons and weather. Our Groundhog Day and Candlelora has no scientific basis.

My friend, Patricia, lives in Florence and might be celebrating Candelora (‘Candelaia’ in Tuscan dialect) there this weekend. It is a tradition in Tuscany that goes back to the Middle Ages.  Florentine churches still distribute holy candles to parishioners on this day.

Spring Will Come

There is snow on the ground in Paradelle, and the Polar Vortex visited us this past week. The ground is rock-hard. Nothing is budding. But I saw my first robin today.


There are a lot of things that are supposed to indicate that the spring season is near. That silly groundhog in Pennsylvania who was pulled out of his home, saw no shadow (Duh, it was cloudy) and so it is supposed to be an early spring. NOAA says Phil the Groundhog has a 40% accuracy rate over 133 years – about as good as a coin toss.

It is a sure sign of spring when I once again watch the film Groundhog Day, and whatever the weather might be, I get into the Zen of that film.

Animals pay no attention to calendars, but those that hibernate or spend more time  inside than outside (like most of us) during winter do sense a warming climate. There are also internal clocks that will signal that it is time for them to emerge.

It made a kind of sense to people at one time that if they observed an animal (bears in France, badgers in Germany, groundhogs in America) emerging but then heading back inside, it must “know” something about the weather ahead.

You can also be a sky watcher like the ancients, who paid more careful attention to things up there. The movements of the Sun and Moon were very important and today is a “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. Today falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox.

Though it might not feel like it, consider that winter is halfway over and spring is on the celestial horizon – whether it looks and feels like it outside. I have definitely noticed that there was a longer day(light) the past week.

Many nature and garden folks look to the plants in their neighborhood for signs of spring. But I can’t say that I have found them to be much more accurate than groundhogs. I saw some bulbs poking above ground back in December, but they stopped their progress. I have a patch of crocuses that get full sun all day in front of my home that always bloom a week or more before the others.

Take the snowdrops I have outside. When they bloom, it might be snowy and they add some white (and green) to the landscape. But Galanthus nivalis will bloom when they are ready no matter what the weather happens to be. They are early bloomers.  Mine are not poking out, but we have a warming week ahead, so they might break through.

Cultures and religions all have some type of seasonal celebrations. The Celtic holiday of Imbolc is an ancient one that honored Brigid (or Brigit), goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth. February first is Saint Brigid’s feast day.

The ancient Imbolc (from the Old Irish imbolg, meaning “in the belly”) is thought to have come from his time being when ewes became pregnant. Those would be the spring lambs. As February started, Saint Brigid was thought to bring the healing power of the sun back to the world.

Christians took the pagan holiday and repurposed February 2 as Candlemas Day (Candelora in Italy).  Though it is to mark the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after his birth, the ceremony is to bring candles (and Brigid’s crosses) to church to be blessed.  So, it offers the elements of fire and birth.

May Brigid bless the house wherein you dwell
Bless every fireside every wall and door
Bless every heart that beats beneath its roof
Bless every hand that toils to bring it joy
Bless every foot that walks its portals through
May Brigid bless the house that shelters you.

What made that robin return to this cold northern place now? Birds that nest in the Northern Hemisphere tend to migrate northward in the spring to take advantage of emerging insect populations, budding plants and an abundance of nesting locations.

Though the vast majority of robins do move south in the winter, some remain and move around in northern locations. Robins migrate more in response to food than to temperature and fruit is the robin’s winter food source. I haven’t seen any robins in my area since autumn, so I assume they went south.

American Robins eat large numbers of both invertebrates and fruit. In spring and summer, they prefer earthworms, insects and some snails. they also eat a wide variety of fruits, including chokecherries, hawthorn, dogwood, sumac fruits and juniper berries. One study suggested that robins may try to round out their diet by selectively eating fruits that have bugs in them.

Day of the Groundhog (and other observations)

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.

PhilThere 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.

ImbolcBut February 2nd is also a “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. That means that it falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox.

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.

Candlemas Day

Saint Brigid’s cross

Today you can celebrate three holidays that are connected.  Today is a “cross-quarter” day in the solar calendar. That means it falls exactly between a solstice and an equinox.

This is the ancient Celtic holiday of Imbolc. It honored Brigit, goddess of fire, poetry, healing, and childbirth. This was the day that she brought the healing power of the sun back to the world. I hope that my Paradelle neighborhood sees the first promise of spring today because winter has been pretty brutal so far.

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

February 2 became a Christian holiday called Candlemas Day which marked the presentation of Jesus at the Temple 40 days after Christmas and is marked by the blessing of candles.

February 1st is Saint Brigid’s feast day.

Badger emerging from den

It is also a day marked by the emergence of some animals from their winter dens. These were viewed as omens that would predict the season ahead. In some European countries, watching the behavior of animals (badgers in particular) on this day to see if they emerged or returned to their dens predicted the season. It was believed that animals had a far more acute sense of the weather. Many people still believe that. If that badger emerged but decided to return to its den, it meant that there was still a long winter ahead.

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.

Of course, Americans are probably more familiar of the holiday created by German immigrants in Pennsylvania. They didn’t find many badgers in Pennsylvania but there were a lot of groundhogs.

Groundhog Day goes back to the mid-1800s. Though today it has become highly commercialized, the original idea was to continue the Candlemas day tradition of watching a denning animal emerge from its winter quarters. If  it sees its shadow and goes back in, it is another six weeks of winter rest. For much of the U.S., there will be at least another 6 weeks of winter after today! If the animal emerges on a cloudy day, the thought is that it will remain out and the remaining winter weather will be moderate.