Ground Hog Day . . . Or Is It Imbolc?

Punxsutawney Phil, Groundhog Prophet Extraordinaire

Punxsutawney Phil has spoken: it will be an early spring in 2013.? Of course, few people take?Punxsutawney Phil?Sowerby, the groundhog from?Punxsutawney, PA, as an actual weather guru, even though he is a cute little rascal and, for being a claimed 130 years old, he holds his age well.? So, should we get ready to stow the winter gear and break out the Hawaiian shirts?? Considering that good ol’ Phil is said to be batting 390, it wouldn’t be wise.? Of course, that’s probably about how accurate a lot of TV weather reporters are and way more accurate than the U.S. government’s Foreign Affairs advisers have been about the Middle East and Muslim countries, so go easy on Phil.? (Lest you think the latter is a partisan statement, it has been true for decades and seems to continue to this day.? I sometimes wonder if they have studied any regional history or even glanced through the Qur’an, but I will leave that in case I ever decide to write a political blog.)? But enough of that somber stuff, let’s talk about Ground Hog Day.

Why February 2nd as a day to predict the end of winter and the beginning of spring?? That’s because it is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, a perfect time to wonder, “How long is this snow going to keep coming down?”? While the days are starting to get longer, spring seemed a long way off.? But how far off?? So our ancestors were looking for a sign as to when to plant their daffodil bulbs. Somehow enough sunny February 2nd’s were followed by extended winters for them to consider what you would think as harbingers of an early spring to become forewarnings of longer winters.? It’s called post hoc, ergo propter hoc logic (after the fact, therefore because of the fact) and is how superstitions arise.? But that will have to wait for another post on this blog.

From whence did it come?? There are two cultures that claim dibs on the origins of this tradition of a prognosticating rodent: Germanic and Celtic.? So, which one has the best claim?

In Germany, if the skies are clear on Candlemas Day, the 2nd of February, it will mean a longer winter. A German saying is that:??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? When it storms and snows on Candlemas Day,
Spring is not far away;
if it’s bright and clear,
Spring is not yet near.?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Not only that, but there is another old German saying about animals and shadows:???? When the bear sees his shadow at Candlemas,
he will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????? For more on Germany’s claim go here.? So, this is obviously a German tradition, right?? Not so fast.? Let’s consider another tradition, quite probably older than the German one and (I contest) could be the source of the German one.? It is the Celtic one.

Imbolc, the Celtic fire festival held on the night of January 31st and lasting into February 1st, also has a strong claim on the first Groundhog Day.? The four fire festivals of the Celtic societies existed long before their recorded history.? In fact, a Neolithic tomb at the Hill of Tara, home of the High Kings of Ireland, has a passageway aligned with the rising sun on Imbolc.? On that day, diviners would try to determine how long winter would keep its frigid hold on the land by observing burrowing animals like the badger.? If it were sunny and the badger saw its shadow, winter would continue and spring be delayed.? Sound familiar?

Let’s go back to Punxsutawney, PA, a German-American town.? Although there are a few other claimants to meteorological prophecy, Punxsutawney is Numero Uno, no doubt thanks in part to the movie Groundhog Day.? Nowadays, the president of the Groundhog Club holds Phil and speaks to him in groundhog-ese to find out if spring is coming soon.? It’s a lot safer than holding a bear or a badger.? I would not deny that the Germans have more of a claim to this particular exhibition, but what about the true origins?? I go Celtic.? The Germanic tradition is newer and, in my opinion, derived from the older Celtic one.? Sorry, it’s the kilt over lederhosen for me.

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