Groundhogs and Candles

In North America, February 2nd is known as Groundhog Day, when (so the story goes) a rodent predicts whether we will have an early spring. If the groundhog in question (Punxsutawney Phil or Wiarton Willie) emerges from his hole and sees his shadow, he will dive back underground and we will be in for another six weeks of winter. But if it is cloudy and there is no shadow, the groundhog stays out and spring is on its way.

But Groundhog Day is founded in another much more ancient and more serious tradition. February 2nd is also Candlemas, a Christian feast day. It celebrates the day that Mary brought the infant Jesus to the Temple, as set out in Mosaic law. Later on, it became the day when the clergy would bless and distribute candles to the community to see them through the rest of the winter. By some traditions, the number of candles represented how long and cold the season would be.

There is also an old English rhyme connecting Candlemas with a prediction of an early – or late – spring.

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.

By the way, the groundhog has a lousy future as a meteorologist. Statistics show that he’s right only about 40% of the time.

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