I’ve always celebrated Groundhog Day. What, you haven’t? You don’t know what you’ve been missing!
When I was growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, February 2 brought a special weather forecast: Depending upon whether Punxsutawney Phil did or did not see his shadow, we would know whether six more weeks of winter awaited us. (In reality, we pretty much got six more weeks no matter what.)
In graduate school in Pittsburgh, I met Belinda, a Punxsutawney native, and I learned how the folks in the western part of the state go “whole hog,” as it were, on February 2. That’s when I acquired my groundhog cookie cutter and began making groundhog cookies every February 2. It was sometime later that I dug deeper and found religious connections to Groundhog Day.
February 2 is Candlemas Day. Falling midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, Candlemas historically was a day to bring candles to church to be blessed, drawing upon Simeon’s statement that Jesus is a “light to reveal” God to the nations. In some traditions a great bonfire was made with Christmas trees on this day, signaling the end of the Christmas season. As a sign of new beginnings, many commit to new goals on Candlemas.
In some parts of the world, Candlemas is associated with the beginning of spring, so some might start working in their gardens today while others might throw themselves into some spring cleaning. We’ve still got snow on the ground here in Chicago, with snow showers predicted today, so I’m pretty sure I won’t be working in my garden. And since today’s a work day, I doubt I’m going to get anywhere close to something resembling spring cleaning. (What a good excuse!)
You can see the connection between Groundhog Day and Candlemas in this old English song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
We also observe February 2 as the Feast of the Presentation, when Jesus was presented in the temple 40 days after his birth, as required by Jewish law. It was at that presentation that the aging Simeon sang his most beautiful declaration: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, your word has been fulfilled, my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people …,” the declaration we make as a post-communion hymn.
So today you could be focusing on Phil’s forecast, wondering how much more winter you will see. You could be focusing on the returning light and blessing some candles. You could be welcoming spring and making new commitments. You could be joining in Simeon’s song. As for me, I’ll be baking some groundhog cookies.
Linda Post Bushkofksy is executive director of Women of the ELCA.
Photos by the author; used with permission.