Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021:
Groundhog Day speaks to our pandemic sojourn on so many levels. The movie where each day repeats the one before. The feeling of endless winter. Long dark days indoors. So we need to know: Six more weeks of winter, or an early spring? Will Punxatawney Phil bring us hope today?
You may think it’s funny to have a groundhog predict the weather, but when my family moved to Pittsburgh in 1960 I found out that in Western Pennsylvania Groundhog Day is a serious matter. The prediction seemed to be less important than the day itself. People would say “It’s Groundhog Day!” with a feeling of anticipation that really seemed overdone for a day where you don’t send cards, wear green, or get presents.
But it’s Groundhog Day for a reason. The date of February 2 has astronomical significance. It’s the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, between the first day of winter and the first day of spring. We’re halfway through winter, you might say. For the farmer it would be important to know whether to prepare for spring planting or to wait out a few more weeks of frost. In the Celtic calendar it was celebrated as a cross-quarter day, falling as it does, between two quarter days, a solstice and an equinox.
In England today was celebrated as Candlemas, 40 days after Christmas, the day the Infant Christ was presented at the temple. People used to leave their festive Christmas decorations up for 40 days, up to Candlemas Eve. Although in modern times the tradition has been to take the wreaths and holly down on Epiphany (January 6), historians at English Heritage called for people to keep the old custom of keeping Christmas until Candlemas this year because we needed to keep up the cheer a little longer.
In France, the Candlemas tradition includes the blessing of candles and making of crepes. In Japan there’s a special sushi, to be eaten silently, in one sitting, and facing toward the direction for the new year. Bring in the light, chase out the gloom, they all seem to say.
Or you can expel the demons by throwing beans. On our walk today my neighbor told me that in Japan this is Setsubun, the time of year when you throw beans out of the house and tell those evil spirits to leave. Apparently it can fall on Feb. 1, 2, or 3, but one source said it was Feb. 2 this year, so I’m taking that. It’s the day before spring, so you throw roasted soybeans into the house and out of it to expel the evil spirits and purify your home for the new year. If you have a minute, take a look at this fun video to learn more about this happy welcome to spring: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=setsubun#id=3&vid=e841a41cd8907f37a44d3d380a484d4d&action=view
Time to decide whether it’s safe to come out of hibernation, to trust the instincts of small hibernating animals–hedgehogs, badgers, groundhogs, whatever you’ve got– to tell us whether spring is really here. If the sun shines on Candlemas (i.e. Phil sees his shadow), we have 6 more weeks of winter (40 days, actually). If the day is cloudy, then no shadow, and spring is almost here.
Well, Phil did see his shadow. A rival groundhog in New York predicted spring, but word has gotten out that he was prerecorded. They both had to be virtual events because of the pandemic. So maybe Phil is right, because at least he didn’t cheat. Six weeks of winter. We can do this.
But I saw a rabbit the other day. Nibbling the grass very early in the morning. We’ve rented a place in Big Bear for a snow weekend in February. And I got an email about a very tempting trip to take in December. I got my new driver’s license today, good until 2025, and I did it all on line! I’m hearing from more and more friends who have received their first vaccination through Othena.com, Kaiser, or their retirement community.
My neighbor and I saw a squirrel this afternoon. The first one this year. I take it as a sign.
Happy Groundhog Day. And if any gloom creeps in, throw beans at it.
Today’s Notable Headlines
“A gloomy Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil predicts 6 more weeks of winter,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 2, 2021. https://www.post-gazette.com/news/state/2021/02/02/Not-snow-nor-pandemic-keeps-Punxsutawney-Phil-from-his-job-virtual/stories/202102020087
“How German settlers created the traditions behind Groundhog Day,” Blog of the German Embassy in Washington, D.C., https://germanyinusa.com/2019/02/01/how-german-settlers-created-the-traditions-behind-groundhog-day/#more-2093
“Call to leave Christmas decorations up until February 2,” Devon Live, Jan. 5, 2021. https://www.devonlive.com/news/uk-world-news/call-leave-christmas-decorations-up-4857087
“Japanese Setsubun Festival to Fall on February 2 for First Time Since 1897,” Nippon.com, Jan. 28, 2021. https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h00926/
“Setsubun: Japan’s Bean-Throwing Festival,” Jan. 28, 2021. LearnJapanese123.com. https://learnjapanese123.com/setsubun-japan-bean-throwing-festival/
More Fun Videos:
“The Christian Origin of Groundhog Day” https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video;_ylt=Awr9CWkGAxpgN98AeC9XNyoA;_ylu=Y29sbwNncTEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3BpdnM-?p=candlemas&fr2=piv-web&fr=mcafee#id=4&vid=bfe9819ebe7673c5691c2f7d79ce788d&action=view
“La Chandeleur: The French Groundhog Day.” https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video;_ylt=AwrVA1cNAxpgRJIA3A37w8QF;_ylu=c2VjA3NlYXJjaAR2dGlkAw–;_ylc=X1MDOTY3ODEzMDcEX3IDMgRhY3RuA2NsawRjc3JjcHZpZAM2S3lOaWpFd0xqTDhBOTFRWUJtUkJBQkpNall3TUFBQUFBRHBFNkwwBGZyA21jYWZlZQRmcjIDc2EtZ3AEZ3ByaWQDbGdtTkZBcEpUQnU3YlJkNndHV0JEQQRuX3JzbHQDNjAEbl9zdWdnAzEwBG9yaWdpbgN2aWRlby5zZWFyY2gueWFob28uY29tBHBvcwMwBHBxc3RyAwRwcXN0cmwDBHFzdHJsAzEwBHF1ZXJ5A2NoYW5kYWxldXIEdF9zdG1wAzE2MTIzMTg2MDY-?p=chandaleur&ei=UTF-8&fr2=p%3As%2Cv%3Av%2Cm%3Asa&fr=mcafee#id=2&vid=f2dce82a4a8262d2ad48b83d974495a0&action=view
“CANDLEMAS/GROUNDHOG DAY,” The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Feb. 2, 2021. https://www.almanac.com/fact/candlemasgroundhog-day-its-no-accident-that-groundhog-holiday
“QUARTER DAYS AND CROSS-QUARTER DAYS: GROUNDHOG DAY IS ASTRONOMY’S CROSS-QUARTER DAY.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Jan. 29, 2021. https://www.almanac.com/quarter-days-and-cross-quarter-days
Why am I doing this?
The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an estraordinary world crisis.
You are on History’s Edge.