Tuesday, February 2, 2010

According to Phil...

Happy Groundhog Day! According to Punxutawney Phil, we'll be having 6 more weeks of the cold stuff before we can break out the flip flops. I remember that last summer, my mother and I were hoping for a nice cold winter to kill off the bugs and get the flowers back into their regular growing cycle. Be careful what you wish for huh (that might explain my 4 1/2 hr icy drive home from Franklin last Friday).

As I was watching the news this morning, waiting for Phil's judgement, the newscaster got my hackles up. She turned to her co-anchor and asked him why, in an age of computer models and meteorologists, we are still putting faith in an archaic custom like groundhogs seeing their shadow. Lady, to a historian, THEM'S FIGHTING WORDS! Don't those "archaic customs" form the basics for our daily lives? From our language to our religions to our morals, values and social actions, the "archaic customs" tell us what to do. Learn your history, heifer!

OK, ok, now that my pulse is back to normal, let's examine this archaic custom. Why do we celebrate Groundhog Day? Yep, you guessed it...an old pagan tradition that translated into a Christian tradition and was brought to this country by immigrants centuries ago.

Celts (think very old Scottish, Irish and Welsh pagan tribes long before there was such a thing as "British") celebrated the festival of Imbolc on February 1. Imbolc was considered the turning point of the winter season, time to begin preparing for spring. Part of the Imbolc ritual was to see if serpents and/or badgers came out of their winter hibernating lairs. If they stayed out, spring would begin soon. If they turned around and went back inside, more cold days to come. The Catholic Church translated Imbolc into Candlemas (February 2). Candlemas celebrates the Virgin Mary's trip to the temple for ritual purification 40 days after the birth of Jesus (you know how women take off for 6 weeks today after having a baby? think along those lines). Part of Candlemas includes the celebration of the renewal of the year, or the coming of spring.

German immigrants who came into Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries brought these traditions with them. Rather than a badger, these Pennsylvania Germans looked to the groundhog for sage advice (no shadow, stays out, spring soon vs. sees shadow, goes back, more winter). There are several Groundhog Day celebrations in the US and Canada but the most famous is the one in Punxsutawney, PA. Since 1886, crowds as big as 40,000 people have gathered to see if Phil sees his shadow. It's a very elaborate affair with everybody dressing up and honoring all the old customs. And of course, interest increased back in the 1990's with the movie, Groundhog Day.

I'm tempted to send this to the newslady but I figure she might not understand it! Either way, enjoy your Groundhog Day (and don't dig out those flip flops just yet).


  1. LOL, you go get that lady, Ms. Ramona!!! Tell her how it is! Looks like another tradition that came along through pagan tradition and transfered to Christian tradition and brought over to the US. Pretty cool. I like winter though. Summer is always too hot and buggy! I hate bugs! Thanks for the post!

  2. And she even gave me ideas for future posts. While she was talking, I saw her fiddle with her wedding band. Another archaic custom? Wonder if she knows why she was wearing a gold band on the 3rd finger of her left hand? I figured that since June was the big wedding month, I can do wedding posts then just like the Christmas traditions ones from December. See, I didn't smack her and I actually got something useful from her. Silver lining, silver lining : )