2nd February: Candlemas and Groundhog Day

'Where, woman, is thine offering-
The debt of law and love?'
'My Babe a tender nestling is,
And I the mother-dove.' 

'A Pair Of Turtle-Doves: The Purification'  by John Bannister Tabb (1845-1909)

What I remember of Candlemas as a child is my Dad telling me that today was the day hibernating animals came out and checked the temperature. Depending on whether the day was fair or not, the weather for the next few weeks was determined. That was before either of us had ever heard of Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil. The tradition is a Northern European one and specifically German, which in England probably means it has Anglo-Saxon origins.

Of course there are no groundhogs in Europe, so the American legend must have started with another animal, another sort of hog - a hedgehog. There are so many wonderful folk names for the prickly beast of the hedge bottom. We called them 'Pricky Hodgsons' in my family, but hedgehogs are also called hedgepigs, or urchins and of course Mrs Tiggywinkle.

The first official 'Ground Hog Day' was celebrated on the 2nd February, 1886 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The German migrants to Pennsylvania brought their tradition with them. The day was decreed a holiday by the local paper - 'The Punxsutawney Spirit'. The editor wrote, "Today is Groundhog Day and up to the time of going to press, the beast has not seen its shadow." The following year, the first Groundhog Day celebration took place at Gobbler's Knob, and the crowd that gathered there named themselves "The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club." When a groundhog miraculously appeared, the club named him 'Phil, the Punxsutawney Groundhog'.

There are a number of calendar points in the year when it is traditionally supposed that the weather for the next few weeks can be forecast. St Swithun is the most famous, but Candlemas is another. Here's the rhyme.

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

In an agricultural community it's not surprising that farmers tried every method they could to predict the weather. Ploughing, planting and harvest depended on it. But there is probably a reason that Candlemas was chosen as a predictive day. It marks the beginning of the second half of winter because is half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. That's why it was a pre-Christian festival, because it was already a special day for those earlier people whose religion was determined by the skies. Before the Reformation all churches celebrated the Feast of the Purification, - as Candlemas is properly called. They marked it by candlelit processions, the practice itself echoing the earlier Roman practices of purification which were commonly held in February.

The day celebrates the presentation in the Temple of Mary the Mother of Jesus and it was not uncommon for women in the Anglican tradition to be 'churched' right up until the 1960s. My Grandmother insisted my Mother was churched after I was born, in case the fairies got her - or me. I found this beautiful painting whist researching this post. Isn't she wonderful?

'Candlemas Day' by Marianne Stokes (1855-1927)

Anyway the second half of winter begins today, but spring is evident in the shops and in the gardens. I saw my first snowdrop yesterday and my local green grocer has both blood oranges and the first tender forced rhubarb. I put them together.

Rhubarb and Blood Orange Compôte

This is not even a recipe. Chop some forced rhubarb into lengths and put it in a shallow roasting tin with the juice and rind of a blood orange. Add a couple of tablespoons of sugar and roast in a hot oven until the rhubarb is soft. Serve warm. You could have this with creme fraiche or cream, but actually the juice was so wonderful l preferred it as it came. It was wonderfully fragrant and aromatic.

The days of the future stand in front of us
Like a line of candles all alight -
Golden and warm and lively little candles.
The days that are past are left behind,
A mournful row of candles that are out...

From 'Candles' by C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933)

There are lots of traditions associated with February 2nd such as St. Brigid, Imbolc and Candlemas and I've written about all those before.

Here's the link



Pete Thompson said...

Oh dear, it's 'fair and bright' today. Does that mean we're in for some more winter?

Anonymous said...

And there I was enjoying a second day of sun and tiny scudding clouds...