Pastor’s Letters

On Groundhogs and Candlelight

The month of February is perhaps the most enigmatic of all the months of the year.  It only has 28 days except for once every four years when we add a 29th day and call it “Leap Year”.  We do that because we lose about a quarter of a day (by the solar calendar) each year and so we need to make up the time by adding a single day every fourth year to get us back on track with the sun and moon.  This year just so happens to be one of those years so in a couple of weeks, we will have a rare 29th day of February.  Celebrate!

February 2 is most widely known in the U.S. and Canada as “Groundhog Day”. 

On February 2, 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, was celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, it gets scared and runs back into its burrow, predicting six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring. [1]

There are various stories about the origin of this practice.  Many point back in history and link the day to a Christian tradition called Candlemas!  As far back as the fourth century, the Christian church has celebrated February 2 to commemorate the day when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to be presented at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jewish law required a 40-day period of purification before the mother and baby could come to the Temple.  February 2nd is 40 days after Christmas (Nativity) and thus is called the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus.  The day began to be marked with the ‘blessing of the candles’ around the 11th century and the service was called Candlemas.  The candles were blessed and then carried in procession as a symbol of Christ (the light of the world) entering the Temple for the first time.  The candle’s light and flame were also symbols that the cold and darkness winter were almost at an end and spring was just around the corner.  Light was overcoming the darkness! There seems to have been both a religious and practical import attached to this practice. 

Since the traditional Candlemas celebration anticipated the planting of crops, a central focus of the festivities was the forecasting of either an early spring or a lingering winter. Sunshine on Candlemas was said to indicate the return of winter. Similarly, “When the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day / There it will stick till the second of May.”[2]

This association of Candlemas with the prediction of the onset of spring began to be intertwined with other folklore and particularly the German tradition of the Hedgehog (Badger) as the forecasting animal.  Other countries have similar traditions where animals predict the weather.  In Croatia/Serbia it’s the bear.  Others include squirrels, frogs, and even catfish (Japan).  When German immigrants came to America, they brought their tradition with them.  But with not many hedgehogs to be found in this new land they substituted the groundhog which were plentiful in Pennsylvania where they settled.  And that tradition has grown into what we know as Groundhog Day

So there you have it, how Candlemas became Groundhog Day; a quirky little lesson for a quirky little month. It’s just something for a smile and a diversion.   Have a great February and Happy Leap Year!

Peace, Pastor Chuck


[1] “First Groundhog Day”, www.history.com

[2] “Candlemas/Groundhog Day”, The Old Farmer’s Almanac – www.almanac.com