"If Candlemas be bright and clear/ There'll be two winters in the year."

-Groundhog Day is coming!  Visit Punxsutawney and read about this American tradition...

-Click here for the lyrics to all the essential Groundhog's Day songs, hymns and carols

-Go here to send an electronic Groundhog Day greeting card

-Punxsutawney Phil wasn't the only one. Read about the Canadian claimants, Nova Scotia's  Shubenacadie Sam and the strange sad events surrounding the death of Wiarton Willie. Or just go to Groundhog Central.

-What the hoo-hah is a marmota caboto robustica, anyhow? Read up on the New World Marmot or click here for a more scientific approach to marmota monax. But you probably want to know about the groundhog (aka whistlepig, aka woodchuck) in Missouri.

-A most versatile creature -- here's a recipe for "Country Style Groundhog." More or less serious. Here's another, adaptable to rabbit  if groundhogs get scarce (and if they have any sense at all, they will). The older animal is suitable for stewing. It can also be prepared by the browning bag method. Then there's oriental style groundhog. I actually kinda like the sound of this one -- anybody got a spare groundhog?

Groundhog's Day is a secularization of Candlmas, a Christian feast of the middle ages which in turn baptized such pre-Christian observances of the returning sun as Imbolc. Since the winter solstice, by Candlemas, the sun has gained one whole hour. In the Catholic tradition, Candlemas commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem, and is named after the candlelight procession which precedes the mass. Candles are also blessed on this day.

The American traditions for this day come to us mainly by way of Germany. In the Black Forest the spinning wheel would now be put aside: "Lichtmess, Spinnen vergess, bei Tag zu Nacht ess" (Candlemas, forget spinning, eat supper by daylight).

Sunny weather in early February is a bad omen for the arrival of Spring and German sayings abound: "Wenn's an Lichtmess stürmt und schneit, ist der Frühling nicht mehr weit; ist es aber klar und hell, kommt der Lenz noch nicht so schnell" (When it storms and snows on Candlemas Day, Spring is not far away; if it's bright and clear, Spring is not yet near).

The groundhog forecast is based on a German tradition brought to Pennsylvania in 1887. "Wenn der Bär zu Lichtmess seinen Schatten sieht, so kriecht er wieder auf sechs Wochen ins Loch" (When the bear sees his shadow at Candlemas, he will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.) The bear has been replaced by the badger (Dachs) or hedgehog (Igel) and in the U.S. by the groundhog.

The traditions of the British Isles link the celebration with St Brigid's Day (Feb. 1); Known variously throughout Ireland as St. Brigid, Brighid, Brigit, Bridget or Bride, this sixth-century nun and founder of the abbey at Kildare  is closely associated with the farm, ale, butter, and cows, and with certain traditional dishes and customs:

It was believed that the saint travelled around the countryside on the eve of her festival, blessing both the people and their livestock.

To show that her visit was welcome, families would place a cake or pieces of bread and butter on the windowsill. In some parts of Ireland, the bread would be an oatmeal loaf in the shape of a cross which was specially baked for the occasion.

Fishermen in some parts of the country would put live shellfish at the four corners of their house to bring them luck when they were out fishing.

In some places any kind of work which used a wheel was not done and people would walk rather than use a bicycle

Many people believed that Saint Brigid travelled the country on the eve of her feastday giving out blessings. People used out a cake or a piece of bread on the windowsill for her. Some would put straw outside the front door for her to kneel on when she was giving her blessing.

The welcoming ritual is still part of Là Fhèile Brìd in many Irish homes today. The ritual  begins on January 31st, when an elder male family member gathers straw from the farm and brings it to the door at midnight, covering his head before he knocks. The woman of the house sends someone to answer the door and says to the person entering, "Failte leat a Bhrìd" ("Welcome Brigid"). The person entering replies, "Beannacht Dè daoine tighe seo" ("God bless the people of this house"). Holy water is then sprinkled over the straw and everyone joins in helping to make the crosses. Once the crosses are finished, the leftover straw is buried and the family then enjoys a feast. On February 1st, Imbolg Eve, last year's crosses are burned and the new ones take their place.

In Scotland, on the eve of St. Brigid's Day, the women of the house dress a sheaf of oats in women's clothing and lay it in a basket called "Brigid's Bed," next to a club (a phallic symbol). The women then call out, "Brìd is come, Brìd is welcome!" three times and leave candles burning next to the bed for the remainder of the night. If an impression of the club is found in the ashes of the hearth the next morning, it was said that the year would be prosperous and the crops fruitful.

Brigid Crosses were made from reeds and hung in stables and houses to bring protection to the family. When people made the main cross for the house, they bless it with holy water and say this prayer 'May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost be on this cross and on the place where it hangs and on everyone who looks on it'. Click here for instructions on how to make a Cross of St. Brigid.

In many parts of the country on St.Brigid's Eve children would go from house to house with such a cross, called a 'Brideog' and those carrying it were known as 'biddies' or 'biddy boys'.

The day is of importance to a number of emerging spiritual traditions of the neopagan grouping, and a websearch on the terms "brigid" and "imbolc" will yield numerous unsourced and conflicting accounts of the relation of the Christian saint to the Celtic deity. Outside of Wiccan circles, there is little agreement as to the origins, significance and etymology of Imbolc ("in the belly"? "in the bag/udder/teat"?) and Oimelc ("ewe's milk"?), although connection with the onset of lactation for spring lambs seems certain. There is little evidence for any historical connection to the Roman lupercalia (often linked to St. Valentine's Day as well), except that it celebrates fertility at more or less the same time of year.

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