Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Halfway Point

February 2. Groundhog Day. Also Candlemas Day. Both have their own bit of interesting folklore and both approach us with an olive branch of hope for something better, namely an early end to winter.

German tradition dictates that if the (this means any groundhog, not just one particular animal) groundhog does not see his shadow on this day, then winter’s end is neigh. And so today, February 2, 2011, our nation’s official weather prognosticator, Punxatawny Phil, was hauled out from his semi-hibernation and given the opportunity to see his shadow. He did not see it and the official verdict was thus given: winter will end soon.

Since so much folklore has some basis in fact, let’s consider the groundhog. As alluded to above, groundhogs are not heavy-duty hibernators. In fact, on a warm February day, a groundhog may bestir itself to leave its burrow and take a short stroll, kind of a way to work out the kinks and so on. I have seen groundhog tracks on the snow and tracked them to a woodchuck hole.

As for telling the weather, well…

And then we have Candlemas Day. This marks the day on the church calendar when people bring their candles to church to have them blessed. In a broader sense, the day touches upon the coming light of spring, the ever-lengthening hours of daylight. And, of course, it ties in with the wait for Easter.

An old English proverb goes this way:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.

Of course this pretty much ties in with the groundhog seeing his shadow. It’s just another way of saying the same thing.

February 2 marks winter’s midpoint. From now on, we’re on the downhill side of the dark, cold season. And no matter the weather, no matter how much snow we get or don’t get, no matter if the temperature remains well below whatever we might consider “normal,” the faint stirrings of approaching spring have begun.

Because we are now halfway through winter, the old farmers’ wisdom rings true when we repeat the following lines:
The provident farmer by Candlemas Day
Has half his wood and half his hay.

Of course many today don’t burn wood and have no use for hay. But certainly some have preserved in one way or another, produce from their gardens and perhaps, foraged wild edibles. Have you any winter squash left? How about potatoes? Are the fiddleheads in your freezer halfway used up?

Some things never change. We just think they do.

Happy Candlemas/Groundhog Day.

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