Looking out my window I’m pondering the results of the great spring prognosticator – the groundhog! Depending on where you live it could be Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil or Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam. A little closer to home, many in our area look to Ontario’s Wiarton Willie. Everyone has their favourite groundhog when it comes to predicting the arrival of spring.
Where exactly did the idea of Groundhog Day come from? For many this might come as a surprise. It did not originate with Bill Murray’s 1993 movie “Groundhog Day”. The celebration – originally known as Candlemas Day – dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. It started as a Pennsylvania German custom with its origins in European weather lore connected with a badger instead of a groundhog. According to folklore, if it’s cloudy when the groundhog emerges from his burrow on February 2nd, spring will arrive early. However, if it’s sunny, the groundhog will see his shadow and then retreat back into his den and winter weather will be with us for six more weeks.
A famous poem from England describes the day like this;
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
In the United States, Groundhog Day was officially recognized in 1887. The year before an editor for the Punxsutawney Spirit wrote an article about the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club of Pennsylvania that went out every year searching for groundhogs on what was then known as Candlemas Day. The following year saw the first official Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Every groundhog used during the ceremony since then has been called Punxsutawney Phil.
The celebration arrived in Canada in 1956. It’s said Canada’s Groundhog Day tradition started with Mac McKenzie of Wiarton, Ontario. As the story goes, McKenzie wanted to show off his childhood home and sent invitations to his friends and family for a Groundhog Day gathering. When an area reporter showed up looking for a newspaper story, McKenzie dug a burrow in the snow outside and made a forecast. A printed story, and one year later, approximately 50 people showed up for the festivities, starting a tradition of groundhogs, including the most famous, Wiarton Willie.
While Groundhog Day provides much fun and entertainment every February 2nd, one question does remain. Just how accurate is the weather forecast? There are many uncertainties in this world. Weather patterns change. Storms come and go. Some stronger than others. Some hardly harm at all. While other storms leave debris and damage in their wake. Who can forget Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is still recovering from that storm which took place in August of 2005.
In the midst of a storm, where does one turn? In answer to this question, I’m reminded of a storm that came up while a group of men were in a boat crossing a lake. After speaking to a large crowd, the leader of the group told His friends He wanted to cross to the other side of the lake. Loading into a boat, the Speaker for the day quickly fell asleep in the stern of the boat. When a sudden storm squall came up, He remained asleep, while the others feared the storm. Waking Him up they said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” That’s when their Friend “got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be Still!’ The wind died down and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:35-39).
In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the groundhog sees his shadow or not. The question isn’t how much longer will winter be around. The question is – When you find yourself in the midst of the storm, who can calm it? The answer – Jesus, the One who can speak to any storm in our lives, bringing a sense of peace and calm.
Looking Out My Window is a regular column in the Northumberland Today newspaper located in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.