IT'S GROUNDHOG DAY !!!!
February 2 is 'Groundhog Day'. This is the day in the USA and Canada when a groundhog (also known as a woodchuck, marmot or ground squirrel) supposedly emereges from his burrow to observe his shadow. If he sees it, ie if the sky is clear, there will be six more weeks of winter (there's always a lot more up here in Winnipeg). If the sky is cloudy and he doesn't see his shadow there will be an early spring.
The earliest reference to Groundhog Day per se is found at the Historical Societyt of Berks County in Reading, Pennsylvania. This is from a diary entry dated February 4th, 1841 where storekeeper James Morris says, "Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas Day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloiudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate".
As can be seen from the above Groundhog Day derives from a earlier body of folklore surrounding Candlemas Day. This is the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, and it coincides with the pagan festival of Imbolc. Imbolc is one of the four "cross-quarter" days in the year, between events such as solstices and equinoxes. Spring was sometimes taken to begin at this cross-quarter day, while others held that it began at the Vernal Equinox on either march 20th or 21st. The groundhog called the shots about which was true. There's a an old poem about this tradition:
"As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas Day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas Day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop.
(I hope it scans better in dialect-Molly)
In Europe it was the custom to bless candles on Candlemas Day and distribute to the congregation. A lighted candle was placed in each window on the home on the night following Candlemas. In Germany people looked for a badger to see whether he saw his shadow or not. A German poem on the suject translates as follows:
"For as far as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.
A history of Groundhog Day was be found HERE. There is also an online collection of links about this date HERE. Wiarton Willie's home page is highlighted above. There is also a page devoted to profiles of famous groundhogs around the world (well, North America actually) HERE.http://pittsburgh.about.com/fanous_groundhogs/Famous_Groundhogs_Around_the_World.htm