For once the weather reports announce a major winter storm coming up from the US, and not "the Arctic cold from Canada". This storm is earning its "monster" appellation by blasting its way from the South Rockies across the continent and up the coast, to make its last drop off in Newfoundland Canada. In its wake are tornado warnings, snow warnings, wind chill warnings, freezing rain alerts, and airport and school closings. Cities are blowing their snow clearing budget on this one, even cities accustomed to handling snow.
Of equal concern to some, this whitening of the continent is occurring primarily on Ground Hog Day. Annually on February 2, brave ground hogs across the United States and Canada come out of their burrows and tell us how long it will be until spring. By convention, if the ground hog emerges from his burrow (it seems male ground hogs have a genetic superiority in this endeavour) and it is too cloudy to see his shadow there will be only 2 more weeks until spring, and he will stay outside. If it is sunny and the ground hog is able to see his shadow, he scurries back in to his burrow, and alas, we are in for 6 more weeks of winter. The British, perhaps in fear of global climate change and their recently more severe winters, have recently recruited their ground hogs for such service.
This year some ground hogs have decided that it is too cold to perform their duties, while braver others are predicting an early spring given the cloud cover. Canadian and American studies of ground hog predictive accuracy find ground hogs are right 37-39% of the time. The ground hog faithful put that figure at 70-90%.
There are many famous ground hogs, noted for the festivities around their activity, and for their accuracy: Punxsutawney Phil; Balzac Billy; Buckeye Chuck; General Beauregard Lee; Octorara Orphie; Shubenacadie Sam; Staten Island Chuck. However, and despite the film fame of Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil (Ground Hog Day), I would be nationalistically remiss if I didn't reveal both the fame and the infamous death of Ontario's Wiarton Willie, may he RIP.
Wiarton Willie Statue in Wiarton, Ontario
Though now a totally secular holiday, folkloric traditions around Ground Hog Day have historical cultural roots in Germanic Northwestern European pre-Christian beliefs and customs, in the Celtic (and now neo-Celtic, neo-pagan, and Wiccan) Imbolc, and coincides with the Christian religious feast of Candlemas.
Both Imbolc and Candlemas fall on February 2, which notably is the mid-point between the Winter Solstice on December 21, and the Vernal Equinox on March 21 in the Northern Hemisphere. Thus Imbolc customs included winter fires for warmth and candles for light, and a search for signs of spring, through divination of signs in the flames or ashes, or through reading nature. Imbolc is the day that the hag of Celtic belief, Chailleach decides how long winter will be, and either makes the day sunny and bright so that she may gather sufficient firewood for the next 6 weeks, or makes the day cloudy, and sleeps in rather than doing any gathering for the short 2 weeks before an early spring.
The Gaelic goddess Brigid, later canonized as St Brigid in the Christian Church, is a transitional figure between these pre-Christian rites of Imbolc and the Christian ones of St Brigid's Day, and of Candlemas. In both Celtic and Christian traditions Brigid is associated with bringing light and warmth in the form of candles and fires, heralding the lengthening days and the approaching return of spring. With spring comes youth and romance, so that another tradition associated with Brigid and St Brigid is a courting ritual, whereby on St Brigid's Eve (January 31) the young and single women gather in one house with a corn doll effigy of Brigid while the men come courting. The next day, on St Brigid's Day (February 1) the young single women parade the Brideog (Brigid doll) through the town and are received with coins and sweets by the married women in their homes.
Candlemas falls on February 2. It is an important feast day in both Western and Eastern Christianity, and is observed by the following religious denominations within them: Anglicans, Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. The primary Christian significance of the day derives from it marking the 40th day after the birth of Jesus. According to Luke 2:22-40 of the New Testament of the Bible, on this day, following Jewish custom, the Holy Family went to the temple for the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after giving birth, and for the ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn, Pidyon haben, for Jesus. Hence alternate names for Candlemas are Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, and Feast of the Purification of the Virgin.
Presentation of Christ at the Temple, by Hans Hoblein the Elder, 1500-1501.
Pidyon haben or the redemption of the firstborn in Jewish law is a mitzvah or sacred commandment, requiring the Jewish father to redeem his firstborn, if a son born by natural vaginal birth, from an obligation to join the priesthood, by paying a sum of 5 silver shekels (or its currency value by silver price) to a known member of the Kohen (Kohn, Cohen, Cohn) tribe as a representative of the original Jewish Temple priesthood. The Kohen accepts the silver in lieu of the child, and blesses the child, then returns him to the parents. When either of the parents is a member of the Kohen or Levite tribes the requirement does not apply. A feast follows the religious ceremony.
During Jesus' redemption ceremony both Simeon the Righteous and the Prophetess Anna perceived Jesus' divine role and prophesied his redemption of world as the Messiah. It was customary in Jesus' time to sacrifice a lamb as part of the feast, or if unable to afford a lamb, to sacrifice 2 turtledoves or 2 young pigeons. Joseph and Mary, being poor, took the latter option.
Current traditions around Candlemas draw both on this religious feast day and on the dating of Candlemas at the mid-point between solar designations of winter and spring, with its pre-Christian traditions. For Christians Candlemas, and the blessings of the candles specifically, are a celebration or Simeon's prophesy and blessings. In some liturgical calendars Candlemas marks the end of the liturgical season of Epiphany. Christmas decorations left up after Twelfth Night should be left up until Candlemas and then taken down.
"Down with the rosemary, and soHowever, Candlemas is also a festival of light, marked by lighting candles as a symbol of the coming spring, but also to chase a way evil spirits, including those of winter. People also look for signs of spring, in the dripping of the candle, the presence of spring flowers budding through the snow, or predictions from the weather:
Down with the bays and mistletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall"
— Robert Herrick (1591–1674),
"Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve"
If Candlemas Day be fair and brightTo return to the more prosaic, but realistically dangerous Monster Storm at its peak today, I would have to agree with the following church's imprecation:
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won't come again.
AP Photo/Poughkeepsie Journal, Spencer Ainsley
Can I get an Amen/Ameen?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions?
*Of course, this February 2, 2011 has been a day of a sad turn of events for the Egyptian people, or one more turn of the screw, if one will. I will be posting on that later today.