>Groundhog Day

>The sun is rising on a clear day here in south-central Iowa. If any groundhogs happen to peek out of their burrows today, they may very well see their shadows.

I confess I’ve never really understood that popular legend. So what if the groundhog sees his shadow and we have another six weeks of winter? Everyone acts as if that would be terrible, but I’d be happy to know that winter will last for only six more weeks! If he doesn’t see his shadow, we could easily face more than six weeks of winter.

The folks in Punxsutawney take this whole Groundhog Day thing very seriously. They have a Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and an official groundhog website.

Punxsutawney Phil has emerged and issued his forecast: “Six more weeks of winter!” Here’s the official announcement read at sunrise this morning at Gobbler’s Knob:

Hear Ye Hear Ye
On Gobbler’s Knob this
glorious Groundhog Day, February 2nd, 2009
Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of all Prognosticators
Awoke to the call of President Bill Cooper
And greeted his handlers, Ben Hughes and John Griffiths
After casting a joyful eye towards thousands of his faithful followers,
Phil proclaimed that his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers
were World Champions one more time
And a bright sky above me
Showed my shadow beside me.
So 6 more weeks of winter it will be.

It’s worth taking a few minutes to check out some of the interesting pictures on the site.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac website has webcams in Dublin, NH, to watch for the appearance of a groundhog. You can find them near the bottom of the left sidebar on the home page.

The January Old Farmer’s Almanac newsletter informs me that in addition to the Pennsylvania shenanigans over Punxsutawney Phil, folks in Wiarton, Ontario, watch with bated breath for the emergence of Wiarton Willie. The newsletter also informs me that February 2 is halfway between the winter soltice and the spring equinox. If you’ve noticed more daylight, it’s because there is one hour and two minutes more today than on the first day of winter.

February 2 is also known as Candlemass Day, originally a Celtic festival celebrating the lengthening days and approach of spring. Into this Celtic festival of light, the Christian church incorporated a tradition of blessing of year’s supply of candles.

The celebration expanded to include the “Feast of Purification” forty days after Christmas. This was a commemoration of Mary’s purification and the infant Jesus’ presentation at the temple. The month of “Februa” was designated for cleansing; yule greens were removed and brush was burned to prepare fields for sowing.

This anticipation of planting crops included a focus on forecasting either an early spring or lingering winter. A popular belief was that sunshine on Candlemass indicated a return to winter.

In England and France, a bear was considered to be the harbinger; the Germans looked for a badger. Nineteenth century German immigrants to Pennsylvania brought along their Candlemass legends and, in the absence of badgers, adapted the lore to include groundhogs (or woodchucks).

So that’s why this day has become known as Groundhog Day, but it doesn’t explain why anyone would look to the sun or an animal for a prediction about the future.

It’s just another small part of a culture that looks to creatures instead of the Creator. As our pastor reminded us in one of yesterday’s worship services: Christ is the future!

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