Monday, February 2, 2009

Are we seriously going to listen to a groundhog?

Groundhog: A common burrowing rodent of northern and eastern North America, having a short-legged, heavy-set body and grizzled brownish fur.

If you ask me, the above definition does not sound like it describes someone, or some thing, whom would be qualified to predict the future. He has no doctoral degrees, certificates of authenticity, or even any meteorology training. In fact, groundhog day shadow seeing could actually be done by a woodchuck, ground squirrel or marmot. In fact, the main qualification for being able to predict the next six weeks of weather seems to be nothing more than being furry and underground!

I have to admit, I really have never paid that much attention to groundhog day, and certainly never put any stock in the weather forecast outcome, but today I found myself asking... why all the commotion over this silly animal? Why would thousands and thousands of people gather to watch a rodent try to see his shadow? Why all the media attention? What is this day really all about?

So I did some research. I was amazed at how much information is out there about this rodent day, I mean groundhog day. But I was pleased to discover that this tradition can actually be linked back to the times of Christ, and that is really does have more meaning than what Bill Murray led us to believe in his movie Groundhog Day about ten years ago (although I do love that movie!).

So for those of you are interested, here is the scoop:

According to the Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days, and she was supposed to stay thirty nine days "in the blood of her purification".

When the forty day period was over, the mother was to "bring to the temple a lamb for a holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin, and if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; then a priest prayed over her and she was cleansed (we can read more about this in Leviticus 12:2-8.)

Forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary went to get cleansed. February 2nd would be forty days after the birth of Jesus, which was set within the last twenty five years of the fourth century. Luke 2:22 says "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".

So after that time, February 2nd has been celebrated since the 1800's, and continues to be celebrated as Candelmas, the feast of purification of the Virgin. During celebrations of Candelmas, candles were blessed, there was much feasting to be had, and the drab days of February suddenly seemed a little brighter.

I also read in one commentary that the groundhog day tradition has been used to teach children of how Christ exited the tomb after 40 days. Those 40 days are represented by the 6 weeks. The shadow represents the shadow of sin, and spring represents the new life that Jesus calls us all to.

All of these things are so important to us, so important to our faith, and truths that we attest to and desire to live our life by. So..... why in the world would we use a lowly, dirty, furry, and if I may say, ugly, underground rodent to be our symbol for such a special occasion?

I discovered that the European groundhog is actually considered a noble animal and the combination of white and gray fur can sometimes give the appearance of a robe like Jesus’s burial robes. Also, the early Christians needed an animal that hibernated and the only two animals native to Europe that hibernate are the bear and the groundhog, and I would imagine it was a bit intimidating to consider waking up a hibernating bear and jerking him out of his dark,comfy hole.

Some believe, that for many centuries, European Christians used this holiday on February 2nd to keep their faith alive in the face of great persecution. When the earliest settlers came to Pennsylvania they brought Candlemas with them. Unfortunately, much like in our own times there was a battle over Candlemas between those for whom it was a sacred religious holiday and those who wanted to call it Groundhog Day and remove all religious significance from the day.

But if one thing has been proved true in the past two thousand plus years, our religious beliefs cannot be taken away, just because society tries to squelch them. Even as far back as the 1800's, and early biblical times, Christians had to be determined to keep their faith alive despite opposition, and that is a tradition that we can carry every day of our lives.... groundhog day, and any day.

Phil the groundhog saw his shadow today. According to German superstition, winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says, spring will come early.

I read that since 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 97 times, hasn’t seen it 15 times, and there are no records for nine years, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. But I still find myself wondering, how in the world does Phil "tell" us that he saw his shadow? How does he communicate that to his handler, the one hoisting him up in the air for all to see, like Simba in The Lion King.

Guess what, in reality, Phil doesn’t see much of anything. According to a national news article, the forecast is actually decided in advance by 14 members of the club’s Inner Circle, who don tuxedos and top hats for the event. Hmmmmm. I knew it!

I know who the only predictor of the future is. I know the only One is who can determine what will be - whether it involves weather, life, or death. I know the One who holds the future in His hands. And He is sitting on the right hand of the Father Almighty today.

For Christians, February 2 is not just Groundhog day, it is Candlemas Day - celebrating the presentation of Christ in the Temple. The return of the light.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

Read that old German poem again, and think about your faith, not the weather. What does it mean to you?

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Lynn Cowell said...

Who would have ever guessed that Groundhog Day had such a background! Thanks for sharing what you found out!

deborah said...

what research you do....that was very interesting!

Kristi Butler said...

Hi Tracie!!!
I LOVED your post!!! Did you know that I am a marmotophile? (That sounds scary, doesn't it?) It's a lover of groundhogs!! I have done a lot of research...and have even visited Punxysutawney twice...yes, even on Groundhog Day!!! Quite a celebration!!! Your research went well beyond mine! Wow! Thanks for sharing!!! (John, who Melea thinks knows everything, didn't even know the Christian beginnings of Candlemas!) You made my day!

You and your sweet family are in my prayers! Before you know it, those girls will be grown and married...and someday will have girls of their own to make them appreciate you!

Love you!

Kristi Butler said...

PS I'm cracking up because there's a groundhog (stuffed animal) in that picture of me. LOL
I'm writing children's books with groundhogs as central characters.

Melanie said...

Thanks for doing the research. It was interesting and meaningful.