Groundhog (Marmota monax)
When we were children, my father always told us that if it's sunny on February 2, the groundhog would see his shadow, run back to his hole and we'd have six more weeks of winter. Then he'd say, "If it's cloudy, he comes out of his hole and we still have six more weeks of winter." I didn't always understand my father's humor as a child. He had a way of twisting axioms and idioms that were lost on children.
Whatever he meant, I always knew when February 2 rolled around we were headed for warmer, longer days and that was a good thing.
But who knew that February 2 has been celebrated for centuries for other reasons. I didn't.
Actually Groundhog Day grew out of the Pennsylvania Dutch custom of Fersommling, a social event in which food is served, speeches are made and one or more g'spiel (play) is performed . This event is typically attended by the Fancy Dutch as opposed to the "Plain sects" of the Amish, Dunkards and Mennonites. Only German or Deutsch is spoken and those speaking English pay a penalty, usually a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken, put into a bowl in the center of the table.
But the Pennsylvania tradition grew out of the ancient European weather lore where a badger was the prognosticator. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas (February 2) and it also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and involves weather prognostication.
In the Catholic church, Candlemas day was the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, one of twelve great feast days. In the Eastern and Western liturgical calendars the Presentation of the Lord falls on February 2, thirty-nine days after Christmas.
In the Church of England, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is a Principal Feast celebrated either on 2 February or on the Sunday between 28 January and 3 February.
Presentation of Christ at the Temple
Painting by Holbein the Elder, c. 1500
In Scotland, the tradition of Groundhog's day may derive from the following poem:
As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop
When I think of Groundhog Day, I don't think of the rodent, but of the 1993 Bill Murray movie where he is stuck in the same day, repeating it over and over again until he finally gets it right.
I have often felt like Phil Connors in the film. Sometimes it seems I do the same things over and over and over, but never get the results I want. Sometimes, I wish I'd wake up and everything would be different---that all the old problems and baggage would just go away. That I'd be a new person in a different scenerio, without any effort on my part.
Each time Phil awakes and it is Feb. 2 again, he tries to ignore or avoid the troubles he had yesterday (also Feb. 2). But avoiding his challenges only creates worse problems. It is not until Phil wakes up and realizes it is he who needs to change that things start to get better for him. He helps people, learns to play the piano, does his job, cleans up his act.
The only effective change comes from within ourselves. We can't change others. We can't change the world. We can only change ourselves and how we interact with the world around us.
Like Phil we must let go of the past which keeps us bound in sorrow, inaction or bitterness. We must embrace each day as if it were the first day of our life.
May each day bring new laughter, love, enlightenment. It is the only way we grew.
I hope I get it right someday.