Happy Groundhog Day! How did this member of a group of large ground squirrels come to predict the weather? The largest of the Sciuridae family in their northeastern US and Canada range, groundhogs’ short, powerful limbs and curved, thick claws work well for digging. Groundhogs have adapted to their habitat with two coats of fur: a dense grey undercoat and a longer coat of banded guard hairs that have a unique frosted look. According to folklore, if this day is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow, then spring will come early; if it’s sunny, the groundhog should see its shadow and retreat back into its den as winter weather continues for six more weeks.
This holiday is also known as Imbolc, Candlemas, or Brigid’s Day. One of four fire festivals (along with Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain) celebrated since the Neolithic period by Celts, Egyptians, Babylonians, and various indigenous groups, it falls midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox and commemorates the change from winter to spring. Early Irish lore observed Imbolc as a time of weather divination, and the tradition of seeing whether animals emerged from their winter dens may be a precursor to our North American holiday. Now the seasons are again changing, evident in the first signs of spring and the return of the sun, in the first sprouting of leaves and flowers. Winter is passing and thus the agricultural year is beginning.
This festival of light and fertility is marked by bonfires, torches, and candles. Brigid is the Celtic goddess of poetry, healing, smithcraft, and midwifery; and fire represents inspiration as well as light and warmth. Old Scandinavian custom calls for wearing crowns of lit candles. At sunset you can light every lamp in your house – or better yet, light candles in each room to honor the sun’s rebirth. If it’s snowy or rainy, walk outside and appreciate the warmth of summer to come.
Traditionally, foods eaten on this day include dairy dishes such as sour cream, to mark the coming of calving. Food and drink symbolic of the sun are also customary: spicy and full-bodied foods; curries and other dishes made with peppers, onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, or chives; spiced wines and dishes containing raisins; as are foods suggestive of fertility, such as seeds. Please share how you and yours observe this very auspicious day!