Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Groundhog Day (or Candlemas)

candlemas "Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see."
— Robert Herrick (1591–1674), "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve"

Today is Candlemas, the day to take down all the Christmas finery. As Pope Innocent XII (1691 to 1700) explained, it's another feast day stolen from the pagans (though since it dates to very early 4th century it predates attempts to Christianize the Celts, so it's not likely to be a cooption of Imbolc, but rather of Lupercalia):
Why do we in this feast carry candles? Because the Gentiles dedicated the month of February to the infernal gods, and as at the beginning of it Pluto stole Proserpine, and her mother Ceres sought her in the night with lighted candles, so they, at the beginning of the month, walked about the city with lighted candles. Because the holy fathers could not extirpate the custom, they ordained that Christians should carry about candles in honor of the Blessed Virgin; and thus what was done before in the honor of Ceres is now done in honor of the Blessed Virgin.
Candlemas is also a day for foretelling the end of winter:
"If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
winter is gone and will not come again."
Sound familiar? In Serbia, they say that on this day the bear will awake from winter sleep, and if in this half-waking state it sees its shadow, it will flee in fear and return to sleep, thus prolonging the winter. At least we don't think Punxsutawney Phil has the power to control the winter - just predict it. (Though we really know that the predictions are right actually not quite half the time...) groundhog

4 February 1841 (from Morgantown, Berks County, Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris' diary) "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."

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At 11:04 PM, February 02, 2011 Blogger Bonnie had this to say...

Or because winter is not nearly over in most of the northern hemisphere:
"Half the corn and half the hay
Should be in the barn on Candlemas Day."

Still good advice, translated to today's needs.


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