History Of The Winter Tradition
Groundhog Day is one of our more optimistic holidays. When the sun rises on February 2, we take a collective breath of hope as a portly rodent peeks his head out to let us know whether we will be looking at an early spring so we can play in the sun ... or if we have to endure another six weeks of staying inside to play family games and avoid the winter weather. Our go-to groundhog has been prognosticating as far back as we can remember, but how did it all start? Here's a brief history of the winter tradition.
In Europe, February 2 is celebrated in religious communities. In Ireland, Scotland, and Isle of Man, it's called Imbolc. It fuses ancient beliefs with the tradition of Candlemas, which Catholic communities use to mark the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. There was even a rhyme they recited for the coming weather:
If Candlemas be fair and bright.
Come, winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go, winter, and come not again.
In Germany, they have a holiday like Candlemas called "Mariń Lichtmess". As a part of the celebration, rather than relying on humans to determine whether or not winter should be extended, Germans gave all the power of prognostication to hedgehogs. It's not clear how this tradition came about, but German immigrants took it to the New World.
The hedgehog tradition for Mariń Lichtmess made its way across the Atlantic with German settlers and landed in Pennsylvania in the 1800s. There was only one small hiccup: there were no hedgehogs to be found in Pennsylvania. Eager to keep the tradition going, a group of Germans (now known as The Groundhog Club) took it upon themselves to find a substitute for the hedgehog. What they found was another hibernating rodent vaguely similar (though not at all related) to the hedgehog called a groundhog or woodchuck. Thus, Punxsutawney Phil was born. That was 1886, but The Groundhog Club claims today's groundhog still is the one they found in that winter of the late 19th century. They say he maintains his youth with the help of a special "groundhog punch" he drinks all summer.
Sunshine & Shadows
The confusing part about our Groundhog Day tradition is how seeing or not seeing his shadow is a weather forecast. Sunshine typically means spring and summer, but you need sunlight for the groundhog to see the shadow that scares him back into his burrow for the following six weeks of winter. A cloudy day means he will not see his shadow. He goes about his business, unafraid, to welcome spring. However, according to the German tradition, cloudy skies means winter is moving out and clear skies means a storm is brewing -- which is how the Candlemas rhyme is interpreted.
The Groundhog Day traditions haven't changed much over the years, and at The Lakeside Collection, we look forward to Punxsutawney Phil's prognostication every February! Whether we get an early spring to put out our garden statues or we have more indoor time to practice our baking for winter treats, look to Lakeside for ideas and products to celebrate whatever Groundhog Day throws at you.