Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is It Spring Yet?

If you live in the United States or Canada, you know that today is Groundhog Day. Legend has it that if a groundhog doesn't see its shadow when it emerges from its burrow today winter will soon end. On the other hand, if the groundhog sees its shadow, it will retreat back into its burrow and winter will continue for six more weeks.

The "official" groundhog, Punxsutwaney Phil, saw his shadow this morning in Pennsylvania. Not all groundhogs are in agreement, though. According to Wikipedia, 10 of the 17 groundhogs in North America predicted an early spring. Our local groundhog (Lilly at the St. Louis Zoo) didn't even participate. She was allowed to sleep through the day, but it was so cloudy she wouldn't have seen her shadow anyway.

Groundhog Day is a fun tradition for the middle of the cold weather. But why a groundhog, and why February 2nd?

Early February is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Many cultures commemorate it in some way. Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, when the Holy Family traveled to the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after Jesus's birth as Jewish law required. The day is also called Candlemas in the Church, the day candles are blessed for the upcoming year. Today is Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, and one of its four principal festivals. Imbolc is also one of the eight sabbats of the Wheel of the Year, a religious calendar used by Wiccan groups. In ancient Rome, the first day of spring was celebrated on February 5.

An old European superstition was that a sunny Candlemas day would mean the winter would last for another six weeks; the tradition was adopted in different ways by different countries. A Scottish couplet says, "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." The Germans believed that if a hedgehog was frightened by his shadow on Candlemas it meant that winter would last another six weeks. This belief was brought to America by German settlers during the 18th century. There were no hedgehogs around, so they adopted the groundhog as the new world's weather forecaster.

Whether or not the groundhog saw his shadow today, the Spring Equinox, the official first day of spring, will be March 20th. It can't come soon enough for me!


  1. Thanks for the explanation. We had a very grey and cloudy 2nd Feb so I guess Spring is on the way!! :o)

  2. Hmm. I didn't know most of that. It was sunny here - but I can live with winter being over by mid-March.

  3. Our groundhog in Canada is called Wiarton Willie. He's an albino groundhog. He predicted more glorious winter...and then it finally snowed in Toronto yesterday!

  4. After a week of snow, we had rain and 50 degree weather today...who knows...smiles.

  5. I'm with you on this one! I am over white, white, white.