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Groundhog Day

Happy Groundhog Day!

Groundhog Day is rooted in a German superstition that if an animal casts its shadow on February 2nd, which is the Christian holiday of Candlemas, bad weather is coming. (Candlemas is the feast of the purification of Mary, Jesus' mother, in the Catholic Church, and is so called because mass is preceded by the distribution of candles.)

Groundhog Day was first celebrated in the U.S. as a Pennsylvania German (so called Pennsylvania Dutch) custom around the 17th and 18th century. This tradition goes back even further in time when the ancient Romans conquered the Teutons or Germanic peoples in the north and brought this custom with them. If the groundhog came out of its den and cast a shadow, 6 more weeks of winter were imminent.

The ancient Celtic pagan festival of Imbolc, celebrated this same day, is traditionally a time of weather prediction, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is perhaps a precursor to Groundhog Day. Fire and purification are important aspects of this festival. The lighting of candles and burning of bonfires in the snow represented the return of warmth and increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.

For more information on this holiday, see the book Groundhog Day in our collection. For more on Candlemas, see Celebrations of Light, also in our library collection.