The Hidden Groundhog Connection In Germany’s Candelmas
Filed in Events
Groundhog’s Day is well-known to our American and Canadian readers. This rather silly holiday revolves around the small furry animal that peeks its head out of its hibernating shelter each year on February 2.
According to the tradition, if it’s a cloudy day and the groundhog doesn’t see its shadow, then that means winter will soon come to an end. But if it’s sunny and the animal glimpses its shadow, it signifies another six weeks of winter.
The biggest celebration takes place in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in the United States and its famous little critter Punxsutawney Phil (made famous in the Bill Murray movie about the holiday, called simply Groundhog’s Day).
However, most people don’t realize that this North American holiday has roots that can be traced right back to Germany! This annual tradition derives from the medieval holiday of Candelmas. As the old German saying goes…
Ist’s zu Lichtmess mild und rein
wirds ein langer Winter sein.
That is, “If Candlemas is mild and pure, winter will be long for sure.”
So what, exactly, is Candelmas?
This takes us to a famous story about the young Jesus Christ from the Christian Bible. Candelmas is when the baby Jesus made his first public appearance, at a temple forty days after his birth. Prophecies were made about the young boy and how he would one day redeem the nation of Israel.
But how did this religious festival celebrating the Virgin Mary’s purification following child birth lead to furry rats predicting the weather?
The answer is all about timing.
First, when the ancient Romans established Christmas as December 25, Candelmas logically fell forty days later, on February 2. Just as Christmas was changed by the Romans to coincide with the pagan festival of Saturnalia, Candelmas also fell at the time of an important Gaelic holiday, Imbolc.
This day is also called Saint Brigid’s day for the goddess-turned-saint. She walks the earth and leaves signs of her presence. She is responsible for bringing the light of summer to the darkness of winter.
So her holiday marked the beginning of spring in medieval Ireland. Imbolc traditions included watching nature for signs of an early spring. Participants might go the fields and look for snakes or badgers that had come out of hibernation.
So, this springtime holiday of weather prognostication eventually found its way to America, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Germans.
While they may have been searching for the more traditional harbingers of springtime, which in Europe was the badger or even a bear, they apparently made do with the small creature that now gives its name to this most unusual holiday, the Groundhog.
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