I don’t know how many of you are as anxious for spring as I am. While I think snow can create the most beautiful landscapes, I find driving in it quite tiresome. I also find, on mornings like this morning, sliding on ice a bit nerve racking. (I’m so glad I’ve been exercising because I would have landed right on the ground otherwise.) Given that today is Groundhogs Day, I feel a little better that spring will actually be here eventually.
The earliest reference to Groundhog’s Day that shows up on Google Books is in 1893. Other days landing in the February 2nd vicinity show up more often including Candlemas, Imbolc, and Purification Day. In the 1832 and 1841 almanac The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information by William Hone describes the February 2nd holiday:
“February 2. Candlemas Day. This day is so called, because it the papal church a mass was celebrated, and candles were consecrated, for the church processions. To denote the custom and the day, a hand holding a torch was marked on the old Danish calendars.”
In John Timbs’ 1861 Something For Everybody :
The Pagan Romans celebrated their Juno Februata on the day which is the vigil of Candlemas, Feb. 1st; and hence the name of the month February is unquestionably derived. In some of the ancient illuminated calendars, a woman holding a taper in each hand is represented in the month of February.
Candlemas is evidently traceable to the ancient custom of lighting up churches and chapels with candles and lamps, and carrying them in procession. The practice of lighting the churches has been discontinued in England since the second year of Edward VI.; in the Romish Church, the original name, and all its attendant ceremonies, are still retained. Herbert, in his Country Parson, refers to a relic of this practice in the custom of saying “when light is brought in, God sends us the light of Heaven,—and the parson likes this very well. Light is a great blessing, and as great as food, for which we give thanks; and those that think this superstitious, neither know superstition nor themselves.”
The candles for this festival were made in great quantities in Roman Catholic times; the Wax Chandlers’ Company was incorporated as early as 1483; the chandler of old lent out wax-tapers for hire ; and wax was .brought to him to be made into “torches, torchettes, prykettes, or perchers, chaundelle or tapers for women ayenst Candlemas.”
Notwithstanding the Popish character of Candlemas, and its hallowing and conjuring of candles, in 1628 we find a Bishop of Durham, climbing ladders to light up his cathedral with 220 candles and 16 torches; and in 1790, the collegiate church of Ripon, Yorkshire, was, on the Sunday before Candlemas Day, ” one continued blaze of light all the afternoon by an immense number of candles.”
Ray, in his Proverbs, has: “On Candlemas Day, throw candle and candlestick away;” and “Sow or set beans on Candlemas waddle,” i.e., wane of the moon.
Another reason was that the use of lighted tapers, which was observed all winter at vespers and litanies, was then wont to cease till the next Allhallow Mass. Women used to carry candles when they were churched; in the north of England, this is called Wives’ Feast Day. Christmas evergreens were removed, and box substituted in their place, as Herrick thus enjoins, in his Hesperides:—
Down with the Rosemary and Baycs,
Down with the Misleto;
Instead of Holly, now up-raise
The greener Box (for snow).
The Holly Hitherto did sway,
Let Box now domineere
Until the dancing Easter Day
On Easter’s Eve appear.
Then youthful Box, which now hath grace,
Your houses to renew;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped Yew.
When Yew is out, then Birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kinne,
To honour Whitsuntide.
Green Rushes, then, and sweetest Bents,
With cooler Oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
The re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turne do’s hold;
New things succeed as former things grow old. “
There are many other descriptions and histories of the available on GB.
We are likely most familiar with the weather forcasting method of watching the groundhog reacting to his or her shadow. These are some of the other predictions that were made at this time of year: (From Something for Everybody mostly relevant to the climate in England I suspect.)
When the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day,
There it will stick till the second of May.
When Candlemas Day is fine and clear,
A shepherd would rather see his wife on the bier.
After Candlemas Day, the frost will be more keen,
If the sun then shines bright, then before it has been.
You should on Candlemas Day
Throw candle and candlestick away.
On Candlemas Day, if the thorns hang a-drop,
Then you are sure of a good pea-crop.
In The Borderer’s Table Book published in London, 18__, this look how well winter will hold can be found a set of predictions that make me think I’ll have a long winter in this area (the weather was nice yesterday and is again today.)
On Candlemas-day, throw candle and candlestick away.
A windy Christmas and calm Candlemas are signs of a good year.
If Candlemas-day be fine, it portends a hard season to come.
If Candlemas-day be cloudy and lowering, a mild and gentle season.
That hind had as life see his wife on the bier,
As that Candlemas-day be pleasant and clear.
If Candlemas-day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas-day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.
When Candlemas-day is come and gone
The snow lies on a hot stone.
February fill dike, be it black or be it white,
But if it be white, it’s the better to like.
Of all the months in the year, curse a fair February.
If Candlemas-day be dry and fair,
The half of winter’s to come and mair.
If Candlemas-day be wet and foul,
The half of winter’s gone at Yule.
It Candlemas-day is fair and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year
For more seasonal proverbs, also see Proverbs of All Nations, London, 1861.