Not all people celebrate Groundhog Day, but it is popular in North America. Tradition asserts that if the groundhog (reputed to be afraid of his shadow) comes out of his hole on February 2nd and sees his shadow, he will go back into hibernation, and six more weeks of winter will follow. If on the other hand, it is cloudy and he doesn't see his shadow, he will stay out, and spring will come early. At least fourteen such rodent prognosticators receive publicity each year, the best-known being Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, USA, and Wiarton Willie in Ontario, Canada.
What came as a surprise to me is that Groundhog Day is actually the cultural melding of an ancient Christian festival with pagan superstition. February 2nd is forty days after Christmas, and from about the 4th Century, when the date of Christmas was fixed, the Christian Church celebrated on February 2nd the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of the infant Lord Jesus in the temple. According to Jewish tradition, based on Leviticus 12:3-4, a woman was to bring a sacrifice to the sanctuary on the fortieth day after giving birth to a male child.
Luke 2:22-25b – When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons." Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. (NIV)
The Lord revealed to Simeon that Jesus was the long-expected Messiah, "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:32 NIV)
To symbolize the light of Christ, the Church's celebration of the day was called "Candlemas", and involved a priest blessing beeswax candles, which the people lit and took in procession through the church, and perhaps in the adjoining cemetery.
February 2nd is also a "cross quarter day", halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and such days received special attention in pagan European agrarian societies, which watched the actions of wildlife for signs of coming weather. German immigrants brought to Pennsylvania the notion of the badger as a weather barometer, while Scottish immigrants brought a poem:
- If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
Simeon's prophecy about Jesus being "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" underlies our marking of February 2nd. Who knows how this information in the mouths of us who have read this devotional may be a talking point for Christians to reveal Christ to those around them, this very day!
Prayer: Lord, direct our ways today, as to those with whom we should share the Christian significance of this day, so that we might participate, in our day, in the presentation of the Lord to those around us. Amen.
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