Whose idea was groundhog?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 3, 2010

As I stand looking out my bedroom window feeling cold the air pressing against the glass in its effort to get into my warm house, I thought about spring. Perhaps it was more a longing than a thought.

After so many weeks of record cold and often damp, gray days, I am ready for the arrival of sunny spring this year more than usual. That set me thinking about Groundhog Day, which by the time this appears in print will be history and we’ll know if the prediction is for an early spring.

I am one of those folks who wonders about where celebrations like Groundhog Day originate. My thought process goes something like this.

Christmas – Who was the first person who said, “hey let’s bring that tree in the house and decorate it with stuff?”

Halloween – What mind conceived of going door-to-door begging for treats and at the same time threatening tricks if candy didn’t drop into a bag?

Easter – Why did someone come up with telling kids a bunny goes around hiding eggs and it is great fun to try to find them?

Along these same lines, my inquiring mind wanted to know how humans decided a furry critter appearing on a certain day in search of his shadow predicts whether or not more cold weather is coming. And so I went where inquiring minds go to learn stuff – the internet. What I discovered is fascinating.

There is an age-old reason why Groundhog Day comes on Feb. 2 and interestingly it wasn’t a groundhog that first forecast weather trends. It was a snake.

The original celebration is known as Imbolc (pronounced “IM-bulk”  or “EM-bowlk”) and, according to the internet, is related to the seasonal return of light and warmth at the end of winter. Or the time half way between the longest night (the winter solstice) and the spring equinox when day and night are equal.

Imbolc is based on one of the four main festivals of the pre-Christian Celtic calendar believed to have originated in the cycles associated with hunting, farming and animal fertility. Also called Brighid’s Festival, Imbolc is associated with Brigid, (a.k.a. Brighid, Bride) an ancient Irish Goddess.

According to my sources, Brigid, which means “one who exaults herself,” is Goddess of the Sacred Flame of Kildare (derived from “Cill Dara,” which means “church of the oak”) and often considered to be the White Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. She was Christianized as the “foster-mother” of Jesus Christ, and called St. Brigit, the daughter of the Druid Dougal the Brown. Wow, that was a lot of information for this inquiring mind to digest.

The Roman Catholic Church adopted the festival as St. Brigid’s Day and she was once the most important female saints in Ireland.

Brigid is where the snake comes into the picture because according to ancient belief, Brigid’s snake emerges from the earth on Imbolc to test the weather. Even though Catholics dumped St. Brigid in the 20th century when they figurered out she was a pagan goddess who never existed as a human person, the snake had by then morphed into the American and Canadian tradition of Groundhog Day.

So now you know why we wait with baited breath for Punxsutawney Phil to come out of his hole and tell us how many weeks until spring. Of course, my mind imagines possibilities. Like what the rattlesnake folks in Opp might do with the whole idea of a snake instead of a groundhog – could add a new dimension to their rodeo, but I digress.

As for me, I don’t care if it is a reptile slithering out of its hole, a groundhog popping up for a look around or some ancient pagan goddess dancing around an oak tree, if it means spring is on the way, I’m all for celebrating.