I bet you thought tomorrow (Feb. 2) is Groundhog Day. Well, I suppose it is, but it’s also Candlemas. One of the lesser known holidays Hallmark has yet to embrace.
In case you’re wondering, Candlemas is a Christian holiday celebrating the day Jesus was presented at the Temple after Mary’s 40-day time of purification. It’s the day Simeon held Jesus in his arms and called him, “The Light of the World.” Hence, Candlemas. It was tradition to take candles to the church on this day to be blessed for use throughout the year.
Of course, we can’t take a simple holiday and not fiddle with it. So some pagan traditions slipped in, including a superstition that if the sun comes out on Candlemas, thought of as winter’s halfway mark, it means another six weeks of winter. Conversely, an overcast day predicts an early spring.
An Old English saying goes like this:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
This part of Candlemas, of course, sounds vaguely familiar as folks around the country roust groundhogs out of their burrows in order to check their shadows. But why not check any old shadow on Candlemas? Why a groundhog’s? Well, there’s this entry from Berks County Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris’ diary dated 2/4/1841:
“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks of nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”
So there you have it. And while the tradition of blessing candles has gone by the wayside, the groundhog business sticks with us. I, for one, am planning to leave the local groundhogs alone tomorrow. Instead, I think I’ll light a candle and give thanks for The Light of the World.