The traditional festival, Groundhog Day is commemorated in the United States and Canada on February 2. The history of Groundhog Day originated as a cross-quarter day, which falls midway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.
The traditional weather teachings speak of the end of winter when a ground hog fails to see its shadow as a consequence of the weather being cloudy. On the other hand, it is believed that winter will be staying on for another six weeks, if a ground hog is able to see its shadow because of a bright and clear day and is compelled to run back into its hole out of fear.
History of Groundhog Day
The 5th century had European Celts believing that on certain days, falling half-way between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, animals had special supernatural powers. Legends from Germany and France reveal that when bears and marmots came out of their winter burrows too early, they got scared of their own shadows and went back to their dens for another four to six weeks.
The first known American reference to the Groundhog s Day is found at the Historical Society of Berks County in Reading, Pennsylvania.
The history of Groundhog Day was an outcome of the Native American rituals. The ancient tribes sacrificed the most well-fed member of the tribe for the blessing of a short winter. They thought it was the best way to please the ancient nature gods. This is similar to the biblical reference to the sacrifice of oxen or a fat lamb.
The ancient tribal people cut the chosen member s neck and asked if the person could see his own shadow. If he could, then the winter would be short and if he could not, it meant that the gods were not pleased with the victim and the winter would stretch for a period of another three moons. A short winter facilitated a long hunting and planting season.
Gradually, with many tribes converting to Christianity, the procedure of human sacrifice was frowned upon. This is when a fat groundhog replaced the human in being sacrificed. Here, the Shamam had to use his skills to denote if the groundhog could see its own shadow. The late 19th century, started the Victorian animal cruelty movement and from that time onwards, groundhogs were not allowed to be sacrificed.
Assuming that in the medieval cultures, the equinox fell on the first day of the spring as it is now in the Western countries, Groundhogs Day occurred exactly six weeks before the spring. It is funny to note that it was obvious that if the groundhog could see its shadow, there would be six more weeks of the winter season and if it could not there would be an added 42 days of winter. The result would be same in both the cases.
How is Groundhog Day celebrated?
This day is all about fun and frolic. There are no rules or rituals for celebrating Groundhog Day. Some of the most common things that are done include partying and enjoying indoor games like passing a stuffed toy groundhog with the music or trying to toss the toy into a basket. Some even make groundhog shaped cookies and you would also get groundhog shaped candies nowadays.
Though the history of Groundhog Day is a modern adaptation of an ancient Celtic celebration called Imbolc, it has its own flavor and enthusiasts.