The days are getting longer; I’ve noticed! Sometime last week I realized the short dark days of winter are lightening up a bit and sunset is coming a little later each day. In the US and Canada, Groundhog Day is an annual, nationwide observance or celebration of (hopefully) the last few days of winter and the beginning of early spring.
February 1 is one of the great “cross quarter days” of the calendar year known as Imbloc that marks the midway point between the Winter Solstice (December 21) and the Spring Equinox (March 20). February 1st is also traditionally the feast day of St. Brigid, who began life as a Celtic goddess of creative inspiration and reproductive fertility (sowing of seeds) and ended up a Christian saint of hearth and home. In Western Europe, St. Brigid’s Day was traditionally the time to celebrate the rebirth of the land and prepare the fields for the first planting.
Combined with this, the custom of predicting future weather conditions based on animal habits dates back thousands of years. In late winter, farmers watched for hibernating animals to come out of their burrows as a signal of early spring. A superstition grew up in Western Europe: if the hedgehog saw his shadow on a bright, sunlit St. Brigid’s day he became “frightened” and returned to hibernate through six more weeks of winter.
If St. Brigid’s day be fair and bright, Winter has another flight.
If St. Brigid’s day brings clouds and rain, winter will not come again.
Transplanted to America, the hedgehog was changed to a groundhog, and the legend continued. As amusingly noted in Hub Pages, “Groundhog Day is a celebration that just about anyone can enjoy. While for many it seems strange and pointless, this once yearly occasion is actually a whole lot of fun for all involved.”
Photo credits: thanks to tinyfarmblog.com and Punxatawny-Phil