Groundhog Day: “does Spring begin at winter’s decline or do we wait until the equinox?

Ed Park, MD dr ed park, slice of life Leave a Comment

groundhog predicts weather!

Based on the weather news of the Polar Vortex lately, it didn’t seem like Phil went that far out on a limb for this call. Oh well. As you know, I like to understand things and then share them with you.  So where does this strange ritual come from?  Like almost every holiday, there are ties to what we would call “pagan” rituals, which are in turn, tied to the seasonal and apparently immutable events that priests, astronomers, and philosophers identified and the people celebrated throughout the ages.


This “wheel of the year” is an invention of modern pagans and it borrows from Celtic and Germanic traditions.   At 12:00 north would be December solstice (notice Yule or Yuletide which is now the Christmas holiday.)

Midsummer is 6:00 or South direction and is the Midsummer of Shakespeare’s comic farce. (Midsummer is culturally-biased, by the way because in the southern hemisphere this is the Midwinter, isn’t it?)

Ostara is Easter or the March Equinox. Mabon is the September equinox.

But in between, like NNW, or SSE are the half-way points known as the the “Quarter Days”. Half-way between Yule and Ostara is Imbolc, and that is when the groundhog emerges.  A nice explanation is that the groundhog was a way to resolve the “cup is half full” tradition of Spring starting at the March equinox versus the “cup is just 1/4 empty” folks who already started calling it Spring half-way between the winter solstice and the March equinox (at Imbloc).

If the animal sees clouds at the half-way quarter day, the tradition states spring is over.  If Phil sees its shadow because it is sunny, we agree that spring begins in another 6 weeks, at the equinox.

Groundhog Day came German immigrants to American who joined the folk wisdom of cold weather being associated with clear skies and the tradition of Candlemas, which was a Christian holiday celebrating the presentation of Jesus at the temple, whose first written reference occurs in 312 CE.

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