Saturday, February 2, 2013

Happy Groundhog Day



A couple of years ago, there was an article about the origins of Groundhog Day in the Washington Post.

How did this tradition get started?

In ancient times, people of different cultures celebrated Feb. 2 to mark the coming of warmer weather because the day is midway between the start of winter and spring. Candles were lit in a festival of lights to mark the day, and it became known as Candlemas. (The Catholic Church later declared a festival to honor Jesus on that day.)

People living many years ago also used that day to predict the weather. Tradition said that if Feb. 2 was sunny, it meant winter would last for six more weeks. If it was cloudy, winter was said to be nearly over.

Now take those traditions and add this: Farmers used to look for the reappearance of hibernating animals to tell them when spring had arrived. Early American settlers relied on the groundhog.

That Washington Post account makes it sound as if the Catholic Church arbitrarily took the established pagan festival of Candlemas and declared it to be in honor of Jesus.

Here's a different take on Candlemas. It appeared in the Boston Herald in 2009.

At Kosmala boutique in west suburban Villa Park, shoppers are lining up to buy frilly gowns so their babies will look their best for a special mass Monday.

They finger the fabric and compare outfits with the avidity of parents preparing for a baptism.

But the babies are just doll-like figurines, and the event being celebrated is the Mexican Candelaria, or Candlemas, a holiday in which statuettes of the Christ Child — the centerpiece of household creches and family devotions — are brought into church to be blessed by a priest.

The practice of focusing one’s devotions around a figure of baby Jesus is both Mexican in its origin and broadly Christian in its symbolism. And Candelaira has grown nationwide along with a population that traces its roots to south of the border.

The holiday falls on Feb. 2, a time when Roman Catholic Latinos from many countries celebrate traditions such as the blessing of water, children and the candles that lend Candlemas its name, said Rev. Claudio Diaz Jr. director of Hispanic ministry for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

But it is the reverence for the child that gives Mexican Candelaria its distinctiveness. Candlemas comes 40 days after Christmas, a time when, according to tradition, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple.

The Nativity scene, rather than the yule tree, is the centerpiece of Mexican Christmas, but in most households the child isn’t placed in the manger until midnight on Christmas Eve, priests say. Over the weeks that follow, it is revered as a representation of the incarnation.

"It’s beautiful," Diaz said. "They place the image, the statue, in a little blankie, and they will cradle the image, and they will sing Christmas songs. And maybe grandma will knit a little gown, and he will be wearing his first little gown, like a baptismal gown.

"We talk about ’the Word became flesh.’ That is the metaphor."

St. Agnes of Bohemia in Chicago is expecting perhaps 200 people to participate in a Candelaria mass Monday, with parishioners bringing candles, water and their own children for blessing, along with the figurine. The Christ Child is often left out all year, and the candles and holy water are kept at hand for times of darkness, Rev. Rene Mena said.

"It could be literal darkness, caused by a storm, or it could be the sense that an evil spirit is around in the house," he said. "So they would light a candle and bless the house with the water that they brought on Feb. 2."

Accounts differ. Some stress pagan roots. Others cite 40 days after the celebration of Christmas as the reason for the February 2nd observance of Candlemas, not Candlemas being co-opted by Christians.

Some accounts consider Candlemas and Groundhog Day as interchangeable. Others maintain the uniqueness of the observances.

More history here.

It's confusing. In any case, the celebrations focus on light -- spiritual or seasonal or both.

Will Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow?

(Yes! Punxsutawney Phil is allegedly the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just impostors.)

It doesn't matter in Wisconsin.

Have you ever known spring weather to arrive 6 weeks after February 2nd?

HAPPY GROUNDHOG DAY!

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