Cross Quarter Days and the origins of Groundhog’s Day

February 2, our Ground Hog Day, has other names as well.  It is Candlemas in the Christian tradition, an English name derived from the candles lit that day in Jerusalem celebrating the presentation of the Christ Child. Snowdrops (galanthas nivalis) are known as Candlemas Bells because they often bloom at this time of year (so does Skunk Cabbage!).  February 2 is also Imbolc (lamb’s milk) because the lambing season began and is considered the start of spring.  Yet another name is Brigantia for the Celtic female deity of light, recognizing that the Sun is half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  This makes it a “cross-quarter” day.

Many, if not most, of the traditions surrounding this day have to do with the seasons: estimating how soon spring-like weather will appear and when farmers will be able to plant.

  • It was not a good sign if the day was sunny and bright. This meant the snow and frost would continue for six more weeks
  • On the other hand, if it was cloudy and dark then warmth and rain would soon arrive to thaw the fields and get them ready for planting.

While Groundhogs don’t have the ability to actually tell us what the future holds, there is a reason why we have turned this day into “Groundhog’s” day. In early February, male groundhogs will peek out of their burrows to check the weather. If it’s nice weather, and spring appears to be around the corner, they will decide to wake up the female groundhogs and get ready for mating. If the weather seems dreary and as if the winter is not quite over, they will return to their burrows and leave the females to sleep for a little longer. Studies have shown that groundhogs are emerging from their burrows roughly a month earlier than they did a few decades ago – a sign of Climate Change and their ability to adapt and react to the environmental changes.

Humans, ever eager for warmer weather and longer days, started celebrating the return of the hibernating groundhog and created the “Groundhog’s Day” that we celebrate with Punxatawney Phil!

This year he predicted an early spring; here in Bucks County it was sunny and bright!  Which prediction do YOU think will hold this year?


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