Tuesday, February 1, 2011

1899 - Groundhog Day

Something About That Day and the Practices and Beliefs Popularly Associated with It.

The careless, everyday reader, who is too busy to trouble himself about musty historic matters and exact dates, may perhaps be surprised to learn that the day which sands out hon his local calendar as "groundhog day" (being the day on which that interesting animal is supposed to emerge for a few moments from his customary hole to arbitrarily decide as to the immediate cessation or indefinite prolongation of Winter) has other claims upon public attention. But it es even so. It is a day that has been set apart in different countries for many centuries for the observance of various interesting ceremonies and quaint customs.

From the time of the Justinian, A. D. 542, Feb. 2 has been celebrated as the feast of the Purification of the Virgin. The popular name of this feast is derived from the consecration on that day in the Roman Catholic Church of candles that are to be used during the year for ecclesiastical purposes. It is the custom of the Pope to officiate personally at the religious services celebrating this festival in Rome. After he has blessed the candles, he himself distributes them to the officers of the Church, according to their rank.

In Scotland, where the 2d of February has been chosen as one of the four term-days, there is s curious practice in connection with Candelmas Day. On that day it is the custom for school children to bring presents of money to their teachers, the sum being proportioned according to the abilities of their parents. Each child in turn goes up to the master's desk and presents his offering. Sixpence is the most common sum given; a few, however, give a while crown and even more. The boy and girl who give the largest sum of money are designated King and Queen, and retain that title in the school for a year. At the close of the offering ceremony in school, the children, after having received a glass of punch and a biscuit from the teacher, are dismissed for the day. They march through the streets singing and laughing and carrying the King and Queen in state. Another custom in Scotland on Candelmas Day is to hold a football match.

There is universal superstition throughout Christendom concerning the weather on that day. Good weather indicates a severe prolongation of Winter and a bad crop; bad weather on this day indicates a good crop and a good Summer.

If Candlemas Day be dry and fair,
The half o' Winter's to come and mair;
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,
The half o' Winter's gane at Yule.

On Candlemas Day each Hebridean family takes a sheaf of oats and dresses it up in women's clothes; they place the dummy in a large basket, and lay a wooden club on it; this they call "Brud's Bed." The mistress of the family then, just before going to bed , marches around the basket three times, calling out, "Brud is come! Brud is welcome!" The next morning she carefully examines the ashes in her stove to see if by chance any impression resembling a club be there. If she finds it, it foretells a prosperous year to herself and family; if not, it is taken as a bad omen. The dummy is carried to the top part of the house, where it is expected to ward off lightning for a year.

The German shepherd should rather see a wolf enter his stable on Candlemas Day than the sun. A proverbial belief in Germany concerning Candlemas is that the badger peeps out of his hole on that day, and if he finds snow walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his hole. This superstition about the badger the Germans have brought to America, but as the badger is little known here the woodchuck or groundhog has been used in its stead in the proverb. In the Central and Middle Atlantic States Candlemas is known as "Groundhog Day," the saying being current that on that day the groundhog comes out to notice whether or not his shadow is visible. If the sun shines and he is able to see it he hastens back to his hole to sleep again, but if the day be cloudy and his shadow invisible he remains out, for he knows that Winter is at an end. A popular rhyme concerning that day runs as follows:

As far as the sun shines out on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow blow in before May;
As far as the snow blows in on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine out before May.

The New York Times
New York, New York
January 29, 1899