“I’m pretty sure that at no point in history was there ever a talking groundhog. So like, what the fuck? What, indeed, the fuck?”
The back story
The other day I was riding home from work and the radio hosts we were listening to were spouting on some crap about Groundhog Day, which prompted the man I was riding with to report that the groundhog had correctly predicted the outcome of the weather last year, or possibly the last couple of years.
Which immediately got me started on what a weird, entirely arbitrary holiday this really is… Groundhog Day. I asked him then, as I asked Mandy this morning: how did this ever get started? The premise of it all is simply too involved – a groundhog emerges from his hole, and either (a) sees his shadow, frightening him, indicating six more weeks of winter, or (b) sees no shadow, and indicates that Spring is “right around the corner”.
…which always seemed to me as a way of saying, “look, a groundhog. Winter is going to end eventually.”
Anyway, I took to the Interweb this morning, and tried to dig up a comprehensive history, which I present now to you. It seems that the tradition dates back a possible millenia, but was first documented in Pennsylvania in 1841.
It seems a Morgantown storekeeper wrote on February 4th of that year that: “Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”
No word on what the actual prediction was, but at least by taking out the crap about the groundhog being scared (or having any kind of personality), it lends a little more realistic perspective as to how the tradition came about. The use of the word ‘Candlemas’ intrigued me, but that’s at the bottom of the post.
What I enjoyed most probably came from the depths of the Wikipedia entry on the matter, a handful of alternate origin stories, that circle around the theme that the first day of Spring – and in fact, the correct date of the Vernal Equinox – used to be up for debate. It’s suggested that the date used to be a handful of days before the current one, and rest instead on March 16th, a complete six weeks after Groundhog Day.
“Therefore, if the groundhog saw his shadow on Groundhog Day there would be six more weeks of winter,” it states. “If he didn’t, there would be 42 more days of winter. In other words, the Groundhog Day tradition may have begun as a bit of folk humor.”
Either way, it doesn’t much seem to matter. Could is just be that as North Americans we’re so bent toward celebrity that we’ll assign it to marmots? I’m thinking it probable.
And yes, Candlemas Day. Seems that Candlemas marks the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, one of the “twelve Great Feasts” in Christendom, and is significant as the end of the Epiphany season, falling a full 40 days after Christmas Day. On this day in history, priests would bless beeswax candles for use throughout the year by the faithful.
It would seem that way back when, people would make a note of the weather on Candlemas, and it’s said that good weather today would indicate severe winter weather to come, or vice versa. Awesome! The Christians have their hands in everything!
Evidently here in North America this evolved in a very Pagan manner over the years to include groundhogs, of all things. And now you know a little more about Groundhog Day. Or possibly… everything there is to know…
Reference: Groundhog Day at Wikipedia.