February 2, 2009

Philip the Furry Prognosticator

Punxsutawney Phil did it again. He came out of his burrow this morning in western Pennsylvania, was spooked by his own shadow and scurried back into hibernation to wait another six weeks for spring to come. I could have told Philip that winter wasn't over yet, just by looking out my window and seeing massive amounts of snow being dumped on this British Isle... and I knew five hours before he did!

 Groundhog's Day on The Royal Mile

I still don't understand the whole ritual of it. If the furball doesn't see his shadow, then spring has come early - but if there is no shadow cast then it must be cloudy and overcast and cold and wintry. Now, if he sees his shadow then he runs and hides and we have another month and a half of winter - but shadows mean that the sun is out... doesn't sunny weather imply warmth and the arrival of spring? I think those 18th Century Pennsylvania Germans got it a little bit backwards... which scares me, because they are my ancestors. Which means there is little hope for my reasoning skills in the future. Besides, groundhogs are skittish creatures, isn't it kind of obvious that they're going to run away from a screaming crowd of hundreds of people and flashing camera lights??   
This picture cracks me up.  I got it off of my yahoo news page, 
from a story on this year's Groundhog Day:
Being the intellectual curiositor (totally a word) that I am, I looked up the ritual online and it turns out - get this... the Scots did it first. Why am I not surprised? The North American Groundhog Day tradition is based on the Celtic Festival of Imbolc, known as Là Fhèill Brìghde in Scotland. It's celebrated around February 2nd, which falls half way in between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It's a time of weather prognostication (sounds dirty) and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came out of their winter dens. If they stayed out, then the hibernating months were over and spring had come. It had nothing to do with shadows.

Here's a Scottish Gaelic Proverb about the day:

Thig an nathair as an toll
La donn Bride,
Ged robh tri traighean dh’ an t-sneachd
Air leachd an lair.


"The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground"

Bride is the Gaelic Goddess of poetry, healing, and smithcraft (metal working). She is also known as Bridget. The lighting of candles and fires in her name (on the Day of Bride) represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months (hope for an early spring). 

The following might be where my ancestors got the whole shadows thing from, or at least the sunny vs cloudy reasoning: "Imbolc is the day the Cailleach (the hag, or "old woman", of Gaelic tradition) gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people are generally relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over." -wikipedia (this is not a scholarly paper, so I'm quoting wikipedia).  
So I guess I can forgive them for their groundhog "shadows" theory, but it's still a pretty weak interpretation. Now, an old hag gathering firewood on a sunny day to prolong winter and torture the townspeople is folklore I can get behind! Going by that legend, it snowed all day today in Edinburgh - so that would mean Cailleach slept through her day of gathering and will run out of firewood soon so winter is almost over. Firstly, that contradicts Phil's prediction, and secondly, I don't know how I feel about it, because I love snow and could use a whole lot more of it! So wake up Cailleach! 

Snow falls and Cailleach slumbers

1 comment:

Kara said...

that man's joy over the groundhog is ridiculously funny. and his 'stache isn't bad either.