02 February 2007

When Shadows Mean Something

February 2 lies halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Pagan societies celebrated this day as Imbolc, a time when the days were getting longer and winter was beginning to release its hold. Many hibernating animals emerged from shelter during this time of year. Christian societies call the day "Candlemas." It celebrates the purification of Mary, mother of Jesus, 40 days after his birth, as was tradition at that time. On that day all the church candles are blessed for the year. (Candlemas is also the day for you to remove any Christmas greens you have left, since it is considered bad luck to keep them displayed any longer—perhaps because they were so dried up by that time!)

The "seeing of shadows" custom comes from beliefs expressed in various rhymes:
"If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."

"If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again."
Basically, if the sun shines on February 2, it's only a brief respite before winter closes back in. But if it's a grey or rainy day, winter is still working its way through, but spring should follow soon after.

In Germany badgers and hedgehogs traditionally "saw their shadows"; in the New World the ubiquitious groundhog, a.k.a. the woodchuck, a member of the marmot family, gained the honor.

The "official" groundhog of the United States is Punxsatawney Phil, the Pennsylvania groundhog who found even more fame with the release of the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day. Phil's official website:

The Official Site of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club

There are other regional groundhogs; Phil's Southern counterpart, General Beau Lee, lives at the Yellow River Game Ranch.

There's even a Canadian groundhog, who is unusual because he's an albino: here's Wiarton Willie's Website.

This CBC article reveals a little secret about Willie!

Lore, poetry, recipes and more for Imbolc.

No comments: