Candlemas, Groundhog Day and Imbolc: Early February holidays anticipate spring

Groundhog standing on its hind legs on dirt with light and lights in background

Will the groundhog see his shadow? Photo by Cornelia Kopp, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2: No matter which holiday you’re celebrating—Candlemas, Groundhog Day or Imbolc—do so with the unifying themes for this time in February: renewal and hope. The first days of February bring new beginnings, as the Gaelic festival of Imbolc marks the start of spring while Groundhog Day begins with hope for an early spring season. For Christians, Candlemas brings the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and an early recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.

NEWS 2019: The “official” groundhog of Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil, now has some furry competition: Buffalo Bert, a groundhog in Buffalo, New York, is now the center of that city’s celebrations, which take place on the last Saturday of January instead of on February 2. (Read a news report here.) Approximately 800 attendees came out for the 2019 party in Buffalo, whose star was the rescued groundhog called Buffalo Bert.

(His prediction this year? Six more weeks of winter.)

CANDLEMAS: A TEMPLE, COINS AND BELLS

The feast of Candlemas focuses on the Gospel of Luke, which describes Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. According to the gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met a man named Simeon while at the Temple, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and as the fulfillment of a prophesy. A woman at the Temple, Anna, offered similar praise for Jesus. However, Simeon warned that Mary’s heart would someday be “pierced with a sword,” as the future held tragic events for her young son.

 

The Feast of the Presentation ranks as one of the oldest feasts in the church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. Aside from the blessing of candles—and the widespread and abundant use of candles, too—Candlemas brings an array of delicious foods and vibrant customs! In countries across Europe, sweet and savory crepes are made; in Mexico, piles of tamales are served, often at a party thrown by the person who found the baby Jesus trinket in an Epiphany King Cake. French tradition has it that successfully flipping a coin while making pancakes will surely bring good luck, and Candlemas Bells—early-blooming white flowers, also known as Snowdrops—are believed to purify any home they are brought into today. (Just don’t bring those Snowdrops inside before the feast of Candlemas, because that’s considered bad luck!)

IMBOLC: SPRING AND WOODLAND ANIMALS (& BRIGHID)

Close-up of square-shaped woven item of thin, straw-type material

Close-up of the center of a St. Brighid’s cross. Photo by Amanda Slater, courtesy of Flickr

On February 1, Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere usher in February with the centuries-old Gaelic festival of Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, marking the beginning of spring and the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is celebrated.) Corn dollies, fashioned like Brighid, are made by young Pagans, while adults twist Brighid crosses. (Get a step-by-step, DIY version of Brighid crosses here.) After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

Did you know? The Irish Imbolc translates from the Old Irish imbolg, or “in the belly”—a tribute to the early spring pregnancies of ewes. As lactation begins, an array of dairy foods eaten on this day symbolizes new beginnings.

Legend has it that on Imbolc, Brighid begins preparing for the renewal of spring. Snakes and badgers begin emerging from the earth to “test the weather” (thus, the beginning of modern Groundhog Day traditions.) In Wicca, Imbolc is a women’s festival, in honor of Brighid.

GROUNDHOG DAY: SEASONAL PREDICTIONS AND GOOD OL’ PHIL

On February 2, many of us ask: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

What started as an ancient pagan festival’s legends on woodland animals “testing the weather” has slowly morphed into a national phenomenon in the United States. Groundhog Day, spurred by German immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries who brought groundhog traditions with them to America, gave birth to “Punxsutawney Phil” and the array of groundhog-related events that fill lodges and streets in Pennsylvania in the first days of February each year. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day, where “Phil” is regarded as the “one and only” weather predictor for the day.

Getting it straight: Tradition tells that if a groundhog sees his shadow in sunlight, he will retreat back to his burrow, indicating six more weeks of winter; if he sees no shadow, he will emerge, and an early spring is in the forecast.

 

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Groundhog Day, Candlemas and Imbolc: Festivals, shadows anticipate springtime

Groundhog coming out of hole with sun and shadow

Will the groundhog see his shadow this year? Photo courtesy of Pixabay

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1 and FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

Revelers nationwide turn to a woodlands forecaster at sunrise this morning, out of tradition that a groundhog who sees his shadow in sunlight will retreat back to his burrow, indicating six more weeks of winter—and one who sees no shadow will emerge, signaling an early spring. Today’s Groundhog Day may have evolved from the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc, a seasonal Celtic festival—during which the spotting of a badger or similar animal supposedly indicated a turn in weather. Centuries later, the Christian holiday of Candlemas was regarded as predicting a forecast, and today, Christians observe Candlemas (also known as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple) on February 2.

A (GERMAN) GROUNDHOG HISTORY

Many regions have their own groundhog forecast today, but nowhere is the humble groundhog more revered than in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where “Punxsutawney Phil” inspires a whole list of events. When German immigrants made their way to Pennsylvania, U.S., in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought their groundhog traditions with them—and thus, Punxsutawney Phil was born.

A 2018 Phil-inspired drink:  This year, a Pennsylvania distillery is releasing a rye whiskey in honor of Groundhog Day, called “Phil’s Shadow.” But quantities are limited, so scurry—er, hurry—to the region if you’re hoping for a taste of the special drink.

Today, Groundhog Lodges in Pennsylvania hold social events on Feb. 2, where Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language allowed; those who speak English pay a penalty in nickels, dimes and quarters. Annually, Punxsutawney, Pa, draws tens of thousands of visitors on Groundhog Day—a custom that began in 1887, when a local newspaper editor declared the city’s groundhog the “one and only” predictor.

A Pakistani view of Punxsutawney Phil: In this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a native Pakistani reflects on how Phil reminds her of her roots.

Stack of pancakes on white with honey drizzled on top

French tradition has it that successfully flipping a coin while making pancakes on Candlemas will bring good luck. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

CANDLEMAS, THE PRESENTATION AND CREPES

The Gospel of Luke is traditionally the center of Candlemas celebrations, in which it is described that Mary and Joseph take the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. According to the gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met a man named Simeon while at the Temple, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and as the fulfillment of a prophesy. A woman at the Temple, Anna, offered similar praise for Jesus. However, Simeon warned that Mary’s heart would someday be “pierced with a sword,” as the future held tragic events for her young son.

Did you know? In Serbia—an Orthodox Christian country—Feb. 2 brings The Meeting of the Lord, when it’s believed that a bear who sees his shadow will retreat and bring 40 more days of winter. (Note: Keep in mind that Serbia follows the Julian calendar, where Feb. 2 falls on the Gregorian Feb. 15.)

The Feast of the Presentation ranks as one of the oldest feasts in the church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. Aside from the blessing of candles—and the widespread and abundant use of candles, too—Candlemas brings an array of delicious foods and vibrant customs! In countries across Europe, sweet and savory crepes are made; in Mexico, piles of tamales are served. French tradition has it that successfully flipping a coin while making pancakes will surely bring good luck, and Candlemas Bells—early-blooming white flowers, also known as Snowdrops—are believed to purify any home they are brought into today. (Just don’t bring those Snowdrops inside before the feast of Candlemas, because that’s considered bad luck!)

In European countries, Christ’s crèche is put away on Candlemas Eve (February 1), and across the church, attention shifts to the approaching Passion.

IMBOLC AND ST. BRIGHID

The Irish Imbolc translates from the Old Irish imbolg, or “in the belly”—a tribute to the early spring pregnancies of ewes. As lactation begins, an array of dairy foods eaten on this day symbolizes new beginnings. On February 1, Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere mark Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, as the beginning of spring and the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is celebrated.) Corn dollies, fashioned like Brighid, are made by young Pagans, while adults twist Brighid crosses. After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

Legend has it that on Imbolc, Brighid begins preparing for the renewal of spring. Snakes and badgers begin emerging from the earth to “test the weather” (thus, the beginning of modern Groundhog Day traditions.) In Wicca, Imbolc is a women’s festival, in honor of Brighid.

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Groundhog Day, Candlemas and Imbolc: Feasts, festivals anticipate spring

Men in black cloaks, suits and hats, one holding a groundhog, gathering to look at a small paper scroll

Punxsutawney Phil and other Groundhog Day participants at Gobbler’s Knob, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Photo by Anthony Quintano, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 1 and THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Today’s Groundhog Day may have evolved from the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc, but woodland creatures and coming-of-spring myths have little to do with the Christian feast that falls one day later: It’s the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, known better as Candlemas.

No matter which holiday you’re celebrating, though, do so with the unifying themes for these first two days of February: renewal and hope. The first days of February bring new beginnings, and the Gaelic festival of Imbolc marks the start of spring. (And, this year, you can even raise a glass to Groundhog Day! That’s right—Punxsutawney Phil, the “official” groundhog of Groundhog Day, now has his own namesake “Philsner”—er, pilsner.)

CANDLEMAS: CANDLES, COINS AND BELLS

The feast of Candlemas focuses on the Gospel of Luke, which describes Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. According to the gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met a man named Simeon while at the Temple, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and as the fulfillment of a prophesy. A woman at the Temple, Anna, offered similar praise for Jesus. However, Simeon warned that Mary’s heart would someday be “pierced with a sword,” as the future held tragic events for her young son.

Ice cream and chocolate drizzle on top of a crepe

Crepes are common fare across Europe for Candlemas, and the dairy products that often top them are symbolic foods for Imbolc. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The Feast of the Presentation ranks as one of the oldest feasts in the church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. Aside from the blessing of candles—and the widespread and abundant use of candles, too—Candlemas brings an array of delicious foods and vibrant customs! In countries across Europe, sweet and savory crepes are made; in Mexico, piles of tamales are served, often at a party thrown by the person who found the baby Jesus trinket in an Epiphany King Cake. French tradition has it that successfully flipping a coin while making pancakes will surely bring good luck, and Candlemas Bells—early-blooming white flowers, also known as Snowdrops—are believed to purify any home they are brought into today. (Just don’t bring those Snowdrops inside before the feast of Candlemas, because that’s considered bad luck!)

IMBOLC: SPRING, WOODLAND ANIMALS AND BRIGHID

On February 1, Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere usher in February with the centuries-old Gaelic festival of Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, marking the beginning of spring and the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is celebrated.) Corn dollies, fashioned like Brighid, are made by young Pagans, while adults twist Brighid crosses. (Get a step-by-step, DIY version of Brighid crosses here.) After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

Did you know? The Irish Imbolc translates from the Old Irish imbolg, or “in the belly”—a tribute to the early spring pregnancies of ewes. As lactation begins, an array of dairy foods eaten on this day symbolizes new beginnings.

Legend has it that on Imbolc, Brighid begins preparing for the renewal of spring. Snakes and badgers begin emerging from the earth to “test the weather” (thus, the beginning of modern Groundhog Day traditions.) In Wicca, Imbolc is a women’s festival, in honor of Brighid.

GROUNDHOG DAY: SEASONAL PREDICTIONS AND GOOD OL’ PHIL

On February 2, many of us ask: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

What started as an ancient pagan festival’s legends on woodland animals “testing the weather” has slowly morphed into a national phenomenon in the United States. Groundhog Day, spurred by German immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries who brought groundhog traditions with them to America, gave birth to “Punxsutawney Phil” and the array of groundhog-related events that fill lodges and streets in Pennsylvania in the first days of February each year. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day, where “Phil” is regarded as the “one and only” weather predictor for the day. In 2017, Phil will even be the namesake of a beer bottled in his honor: Punxsutawney Philsner, which is, according to handlers, already proving wildly successful. (Read more here.)

Getting it straight: Tradition tells that if a groundhog sees his shadow in sunlight, he will retreat back to his burrow, indicating six more weeks of winter; if he sees no shadow, he will emerge, and an early spring is in the forecast.

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Candlemas, Imbolc and Groundhog Day: Welcome spring, new beginnings

Rows of lit candles

Traditionally, candles are blessed at Candlemas. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1 and TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Groundhog Day may have evolved from Imbolc, an ancient pagan festival, but furry woodland creatures have little to do with the Christian feast that falls one day later: It’s the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, known better as Candlemas. Be sure to put away those last ornaments and take down your tree, too—leaving any Christmas decorations lingering after Candlemas is, per old tradition, inauspicious!

For Pagans, the first days of February bring new beginnings, too: the Gaelic festival of Imbolc marks the start of spring.

CANDLEMAS: CREPES, CANDLES AND TAMALES

In European countries, Christ’s crèche is put away on Candlemas Eve (February 1), and across the Church, attention shifts to the approaching Passion. The feast of Candlemas focuses on the Gospel of Luke, which describes Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. Both Eastern and Western Christians recognize this event. According to the gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met a man named Simeon while at the Temple, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and as the fulfillment of a prophesy. A woman at the Temple, named Anna, offered similar praise for Jesus. However, Simeon warned that Mary’s heart would someday be “pierced with a sword,” as the future held tragic events for her young son.

The Feast of the Presentation ranks as one of the oldest feasts in the Church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. Aside from the blessing of candles, Candlemas brings an array of delicious foods and vibrant customs! In France, delicate crepes are eaten after 8 p.m.; in Mexico, piles of tamales are served, often at a party thrown by the person who found the baby Jesus trinket in an Epiphany King Cake.

Grass in x-shape on worn red-plank wood door

The Brighid cross. Photo in public domain

IMBOLC: A SPRING CUSTOM FOR BRIGHID

On February 1, Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere usher in February with the centuries-old Gaelic festival of Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, marking the beginning of spring and the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is celebrated.) Corn dollies, fashioned like Brighid, are made by young Pagans, while adults twist Brighid crosses. After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

In the belly: The Irish Imbolc translates from the Old Irish imbolg, or “in the belly”—a tribute to the early spring pregnancies of ewes. As lactation begins, an array of dairy foods symbolize new beginnings.

Legend has it that on this day, Brighid begins preparing for the renewal of spring and snakes and badgers begin emerging from the earth to test the weather (thus, the beginning of modern Groundhog Day traditions.)

In Wicca, Imbolc is a women’s festival in honor of Brighid.

GROUNDHOG DAY: FORECASTING AND PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL

On February 2, we all ask: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

Groundhog on ground looking away from camera

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What started as an ancient Pagan festival has slowly morphed into a national phenomenon in the United States. Groundhog Day, spurred by German immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries who brought groundhog traditions with them, gave birth to “Punxsutawney Phil,” and the array of groundhog-related events that fill lodges and streets in Pennsylvania in the first days of February each year. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day, where “Phil” is regarded as the “one and only” weather predictor for the day.

Tradition tells that if a groundhog sees his shadow in sunlight, he will retreat back to his burrow, indicating six more weeks of winter; if he sees no shadow, he will emerge, and an early spring is in the forecast.

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Groundhog Day / Imbolc: Can a shadow predict spring’s arrival?

Groundhog on ground looking away from camera

What will Punxsutawney Phil predict this year? Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Will he—or won’t he?

That’s the question asked by thousands of spectators in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and millions more following the story digitally. Will the groundhog see his shadow?

Tradition holds that, if a groundhog emerging from his burrow sees his shadow, winter will last another six weeks; if the groundhog does not see his shadow, an early spring is in store. Though much of the United States will be covered in snow on Groundhog Day 2015—with forecasters predicting a winter far from over—spectators will be left wondering until the much-anticipated emergence of the furry woodland creature.

The most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, resides in Pennsylvania, and his predictions have been publicized in beloved tradition for more than a century. This year, head on over to the official Punxsutawney website for information on the celebrations that last for days—dining, parties, music and much more are included.

Did you know? In Alaska, Feb. 2 is known as Marmot Day, since few groundhogs live in Alaska.

Origins of Groundhog Day lie in the ancient pagan holiday known as Imbolc, which falls between winter solstice and the spring equinox. Similar “prediction” holidays have existed around the world for hundreds of years, with native groups looking to a variety of hibernating animals, from bears to snakes (Wikipedia has details). Phil was declared the official forecasting groundhog of America in 1887, when the city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper made the declaration and began publishing stories about the groundhog.

Wondering what groundhogs really do on Groundhog Day? National Geographic offers the scoop on a different prediction.

IMBOLC:
PAGAN & WICCAN WELCOME TO SPRING

An ancient Gaelic festival that once was observed across Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, Imbolc honors the goddess Brigid and has long been associated with the coming of spring. (Wikipedia has details.) Gaelic for “ewe’s milk,” in honor of lactating sheep (and the new life of spring that they represent), Imbolc is, by some accounts, more than 12,000 years old. Traditionally, Imbolc was observed on Feb. 1, but today, dates vary.

In Gaelic Ireland, enormous feasts were held for Imbolc. The goddess Brigid was invoked for the blessing of livestock, homes were cleaned, and Brigid’s cross was fashioned and hung on front doors. Brigid was said to visit favored households on Imbolc Eve; in return, families would set aside feasting food and drink for her. The hag of Gaelic tradition, Cailleach, is said to have gathered firewood as a prediction of weather, and in some areas, snakes and woodland creatures are watched as they emerge from their homes and hibernation.

Today, feasts continue for Imbolc in some regions (the International Business Times reported, with photos from recent celebrations). Some adherents still follow ancient rituals, by visiting holy wells and molding Brigid crosses.

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Imbolc: Pagans, Wiccans reflect and embrace the approaching light of spring

Crocuses and green grass poke out from the snow

Imbolc welcomes the approach of spring while winter is still evident. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1: The depths of winter may be the snowy reality for many right now, but Wiccans and Pagans welcome the impending warmth and light of spring on Imbolc (or Lughnassadh, in the Southern Hemisphere). Set halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, Imbolc is one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals and the first of three fertility festivals. Derived from the Old Irish i mbolg, “in the belly,” Imbolc was first a reference to the onset of lactation in ewes, which signified the approaching births of spring. Today, candles and tributes to one’s inner light substitute for the sun’s rays in many regions, as devotees hold faith that spring will come. (Read more reasons for celebrating Imbolc in this article at Patheos.) Imbolc is also marked as Saint Brighid’s Day.

The earliest Irish literature contains evidence of Imbolc festivals, some of which are associated with events in Irish mythology. Megalithic monuments (and their inner chambers) in Ireland reflect the importance of Imbolc, and enormous feasts were held in Gaelic Ireland for the festival. For both ancient and modern pagans, Imbolc focuses on Brighid, the goddess of the hearth, fertility and the lighter half of the year. (Wikipedia has details.) Brighid crosses were woven and hung on doors for good luck, children wove Brighid dollies and young and old asked for her blessings; today, Pagans and Wiccans continue many of these practices. (Find instructions and more at this UK site.)

CUSTOMS, RITES AND EMBRACING WINTER’S CHILL

Winter’s snow cleanses the earth, and upon melting, it fills rivers and streams that millions will depend upon for drinking water during the spring and summer months. Still, the bitter, grey weather can be trying—so Pagans and Wiccans focus their energies on spiritual renewal, household and physical cleaning and an internal purification similar to the Roman februa (think February) rituals. Devotees of any religion can benefit from candlelit meditation, journaling and relaxing baths before welcoming the bounty of spring. (Learn more about Imbolc foods, herbs, activities and more at Wicca.com.)

Did you know? Imbolc was traditionally a time of weather divination. Pagans would watch for serpents and badgers, emerging from their winter dens, as an indicator of spring.

A cleansing journal exercise: Just as with life’s events, the earth’s seasons cannot be rushed—nor are they in our control. As one Wiccan writer shares in the Huffington Post, this time of year is ideal for exercising creativity and for examining one’s inner fire. Light a candle, sit by a window and, looking out at the snowy landscape, ask: What is this fire in my heart? How do I keep it burning? And, finally: How do I tend my own hearth fire?

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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