Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil keeps his job

With the economy folding like a cheap beach chair, it is comforting to know that at least the groundhog shall remain employed. In truth, however, it is my guess that his is volunteer employment at best.

Where did all this Groundhog Day hullabaloo begin? According to theholidayspot.com, it is purely a North American tradition, dating back to the late 1800's. It is based on a belief that the groundhog would normally come out of his den on this day (Feb. 2) to sample the air and let his instinct determine whether hibernation was over, or it was time to crawl back in to sleep it off.

Purportedly, he would make this determination based on whether he saw his shadow or not. If it was sunny and he did see his shadow, he would crawl back into his den, knowing it would be another 6 weeks until spring. If, however, he saw no shadow because the day was cloudy, he could go about his business out-of-doors, knowing that spring was near. Seems to me, he had it backward. Sun = spring. Clouds = winter. Never-mind that, by our human calendar, there will always be 46 more days of winter on this date.

As is often the case, special days recognized by we humans have intertwined stems and roots. According to stormfax.com, the North American origin of Groundhog Day is related to the more ancient Catholic tradition known as Candlemas Day, or Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. German settlers brought Candlemas to North America in the 1700's.

And, as is almost always the case, it is difficult to disentangle the Christian roots from the Pagan roots. This Catholic day happens to coincide with a Pagan holiday of feasting and sacrifice known as Imbolc, though Imbolc actually falls on February 1. In Irish Gaelic, Imbolc is known as Oimelc. In English, it is known as Bridget's Day, or St. Bridget's Day. (St. Brigid of Kildare)

When the Romans translated Pagan holidays into Catholic holidays, Imbolc was stemmed into two separate days. St. Brigid's Day was recognized on February 1, and Candlemas on February 2. (About.com: History of Groundhog Day) And, just like a child's game of "telephone," these days of feasting, sacrifice, and purification came out on the North American end of the line as Groundhog day. The day of watching a rodent foretell the weather for the remainder of the winter.

Now, we have our own American version of feasting, celebration and commercialism. Though I must say, it falls far short of the lofty origins of this day. How many of us tune in to see Punxsutawney Phil predict the weather, then rent the movie Groundhog Day to watch while we sit with a platter of chips and dip at arm's length? How many of us see it as an excuse to purchase Groundhog related gifts for friends, family, or office cubicle? (Groundhogs on Etsy)

Who knew all that was tucked into the little pouch of Punxsutawney Phil? (Well, it would all be in his pouch if he were a marsupial!)

Congratulations on keeping your job, Phil. At least,
until PETA replaces you with a robot.
It is a sad day when a groundhog might lose his job
to a robot!



1 comment:

Green Gal said...

very informative and interesting! thanks :-)