February 20, 2017

#05-007: Groundhog Day

eight men in top hats and long black coats; one near the center holds a large rodent, while another reads what looks like a proclamation
The Groundhog Day ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

Note: A surprising number of universal celebrations cluster around February 1st, seen in ancient days as the start of spring.

Get Ready: Do you observe any celebrations around the start of February? When do you celebrate the start of spring?

Few holidays seem as frivolous as the American "Groundhog Day."

On February 2, according to folklore, if a groundhog (a kind of burrowing mammal) emerges from its burrow and can't see its shadow (indicating that the day is cloudy), spring weather will be seen early, before the spring equinox (around March 21). If it does see its shadow (because it's sunny) winter will hang on another six weeks. (For more on this custom, don't miss Lesson #08-044.)

This is a type of "weather lore," in the same category as "Red sky at morning, sailors take warning" or "A cow with its tail to the West makes the weather best." Silly, isn't it? (More weather lore can be found in Lessons #01-076, #01-077, and #01-078.)

But there's some surprising depth behind the groundhog ritual

In the ancient way of reckoning, the start of February is the beginning of spring (though modern calendars label the spring equinox as the start; see Lesson #03-020).

In many cultures of the northern hemisphere, the two solstices (winter in December, summer in June) establish astronomically recognizable dates: the sun's furthest journey south (and the shortest day) in December, and the opposite in June.

The two equinoxes (spring in March, autumn in September) are derived from this. But further calculations determine the so-called "cross-quarter days" between these four, thus near the beginning of February, May ("May Day"), August, and November (All Saints' and Halloween).

So at the start of February, we find in Europe the ancient festival called Imbolc or Lammas, still celebrated by some "Neopagan" groups. The Roman Catholics and some other churches have recognized this as Candlemas, a sly reference to the notable increase in light as the days lengthen.

Not surprisingly, since celestial phenomena are universal, China and Japan also recognize this day. In China, it's Lichun, one of the 24 solar terms. In Japan, Setsubun (meaning "division of the seasons") is marked by a quaint means of ensuring luck (as a vestigial recognition of this being around the start of a new year): they throw a number of beans out the door and shout, "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" or "Demons out! Luck in!"--and then slam the door!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. astronomically
  2. burrow
  3. celestial phenomena
  4. emerges
  5. lore
  6. mammal
  7. Neopagan
  8. reckoning
  9. sly
  10. vestigial

  1. a hole in the ground, dug by an animal
  2. attempting to restore ancient earth-based practices
  3. surviving or remaining from the past
  4. relating to the stars
  5. clever; tricky
  6. a traditional body of knowledge
  7. an animal with hair, which usually gives birth live and nurses its young
  8. figuring; calculating
  9. comes out
  10. things happening in the sky

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 20, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. a; 3. j; 4. i; 5. f; 6. g; 7. b; 8. h; 9. e; 10. c