Living in the mild Mediterranean climate of a coastal desert as I do deprives one of some of the celebrations and mile-markers of life.
Like yesterday’s all important Halfway Point, Groundhog Day, the day that Punxsutawney Phil, using ancient traditional forecasting methods, tells us whether spring is in the air, or there will be six more weeks of winter.
The difficulties of precisely forecasting weather and (all politics aside, climate variations) are legendary. A wind changes course, a solar flare sparks on the sun, a volcano erupts to cool the planet. So I suppose, what the heck, using a groundhog to forecast weather is as good a bet as anything.
How did this tradition start? Groundhog Day falls at the approximate midpoint between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox (the dead of winter and birth of spring). I’ve lived in blizzardy Midwestern climates, so I know that about this time of year, everyone is suffering from cabin fever. Everyone is ready for a trip to Hawaii, or the Caribbean, or Mexico, or Florida, or even Southern California.
Ancient man did not have the option of jumping on a plane for Cabo, and so they did the next best thing: they had a party!
German immigrants brought the observance of Groundhog Day with them to Pennsylvania Dutch country, and in fact, Phil’s ceremony is still conducted in the dialect of German spoken by those early settlers.
Long before weather entrepreneurs learned to tap into weather-related emotions, ancient peoples knew the impact of climate milestones: the dread of the dark season (Halloween), the depth of the darkness (The Winter Solstice). Early Church fathers, no fools they, adapted church festivals to these seasons. Thus at the autumn equinox we have All Saint’s Day. At the winter solstice, we have Christmas.
Our Halfway Point, Groundhog Day, was no exception. In fact, perhaps because it was “the-cupboard-is-almost-bare” point, and “I-can’t-stand-another-minute-cooped-up-in-this-cottage-with-these-kids” point, the Church tacked on not one, not two, not three, but four festivals to this season.
February 2nd is both the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus and Candlemas Day, when candles were blessed for the coming year. February 3rd, is the Feast of St. Blaise and the traditional blessing of throats.
And then comes the moveable feast called Carnival, or Karnival, or as we know it in the U.S., Mardi Gras, the real blow-out that must have decimated the medieval pantry prior to the period of fasting leading up to the vernal equinox, er, Easter.
So what did our furry weatherman predict this year? Here’s a hint: don’t put away your parka!
See and hear Phil’s forecast here!