Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day? It’s a 1993 comedy in which Bill Murray plays the role of a weatherman who finds himself inexplicably living the same day over and over again. I can relate – on a few levels.
Our winters can be long, so why not inject a little whimsy into a chilly February morning. Tomorrow, Feb. 2, just before 8 a.m., many hardy souls will gather at various groundhog burrows across the country to watch a little critter forecast the weather for the next six weeks.
It’s a mid-winter ritual that’s been going on for a very long time. This ancient festival marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox.
There is no real mystery here. If the sun is shining when the groundhog emerges from his hole, he will see his shadow and be scared back inside. Winter will continue for six more weeks. If the morning of Feb. 2 is cloudy, there will be no shadow, and the groundhog will stay out, marking an early spring.
The legend of Groundhog Day is based on an old Scottish couplet: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”
So where does the term Candlemas come from? Candlemas Day is a Christian holiday that celebrates Mary’s ritual purification and the presentation of Christ in the temple. They believed if the sun came out on that particular day, winter would last for six more weeks. It was also the day of the year when all the candles that were to be used in the church during the coming year were brought into church and a blessing was said over them – so it was the Festival Day (or ‘mass’) of the Candles.
Back to the groundhog for a moment; should we put much credence in the furry prognosticator? That depends on who you ask. Grandma certainly did. From early in the new year until the furry forecaster poked his nose out on Feb. 2, Grandma would respond to queries about the winter by saying, “We’ll just have to wait for Groundhog Day to know for sure.”
I never did have the heart to tell her that our Canadian groundhogs’ predictions are not very accurate – based on several decades of data, they are correct only 37 per cent of the time.
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Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.