It’s time for the annual speculation… Will a mysterious marmot pop out of his underground bunker and be scared by the sight of his own body obscuring the radiant beams of the sun, thus ensuring that the winter solstice continues for another forty days?
Even though there are a few places less concerned with an additional 6 weeks of winter, we all know the story – Will the groundhog see its shadow?
Scientists will tell you, whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not, Winter officially ends on March 19th. Folklorists can explain that what we call Groundhog Day was once Winter Candelmas, or the pagan marking of mid-winter, similar to May Day or Halloween. American historians note that the first Groundhog Day celebration was held on Feb. 2, 1877, at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Yes, just like in the Bill Murray movie.
The truth gets a little more complicated – as it often does.
The European countries we now know as England, France, Germany, Austria, Spain and the Czech Republic were once largely inhabited by the Celtic peoples. They were considered more wild and earthy than the early ‘classical’ civilizations of the Greeks and Romans. Or perhaps they were people from these cultures who preferred the more rugged life they’d seen from the Norse invaders.
Regardless, they had a significant effect on culture in Europe and eventually in America. They were, early on, more concerned with gauging and predicting the weather, likely as a way to take control of their agriculturally-based existence.
Many of the monuments like Stonehenge and the Callanish stones were, we believe, designed to help predict the weather, if not just mark the days and times for these ancient peoples. And it was the Celts who gave us the four seasons, originally called Beltane (1 May), Samhain (1 November), Imbolc (1 February), and Lugnasadh (1 August). They may or may not have coincided with worship of a particular solar or lunar deity.
Of course, when Christianity spread to Rome and many other parts of the world, those celebrations would be largely refocused to the one true God, Jehovah and his son Jesus.
For the February time of Imbolc, farmers would pray for mild weather to plant their crops. Fishermen would spend time repairing and refreshing their nets and boats, and many would use divination to determine the weather.
One of the stranger practices of seeking the mind of the divine grew up in the Germanic portion of the Celts, eventually making its way to the ‘New World’ with their descendants, the Pennsylvania Dutch. As early as 1523, the people would look to a more earthy prophet – a Dachs, or Badger.
Not finding a lot of badgers in Pennsylvania at the time, the settlers turned to a related rodent, the groundhog.
Our modern celebrations came about as the result of a newspaper publisher, groundhog hunter and Elks lodge member - Clymer Freas. He took the weird pseudo-worship of the woodchuck practiced by some of his more traditional Germanic neighbors and turned it into a commercialized, tourist-drawing spectacle.
And lest you think we are uniquely strange, Orthodox Christians in Serbia and Croatia keep their eyes peeled for the first two weeks of February to see if bears come out of hibernation. If the Ursus rise, but are confused by their shadows, they’ll go back to sleep for another 6 weeks.
Of course, we no longer need to rely on standing stones, confused mammals or caustic gods to determine what our weather – and planting season - will be like. Although given some weather forecaster’s track records, maybe we’d be better off if we did.
Regardless, we rely mostly on science and past recorded history to determine whether we should grab a sweater, umbrella or suntan lotion on our way out the door. Like most of the country, we will see a temporary dip in temperatures the first few days of February, but the local news assures us, we’ll be back to warm enough soon.
The few days of cooler, wetter weather won’t be that drastic of a change, but we do know some things are on our horizon. For example, the first lovebug swarm of 2024 will be here soon. Some of our longer-term snowbirds will be migrating back to the Midwest. And bat maternity season is on the horizon.
And, of course, we’ve got bugs. It seems like we almost never get away from them – but we shouldn’t tolerate them in our homes. If you haven’t already, check out our Go Green Perimeter Plus. It eliminates and protects against all manner of creepy crawlies here on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Many of these more common insects we’ll be covering in the upcoming weeks. But why wait? Learn about spiders and silverfish, termites and the like, after you’ve protected your home and family. Just give us a call!
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