On Groundhogs and Candles
Since at least the year 300, the Christian Church has celebrated February 2 as The Feast (or Festival) of the Presentation of Our Lord.
February 2 is the 40th day after Christmas. According to the gospel of Luke (2:22-40), Jesus was taken to the Temple on the 40th day after his birth for the required ritual presentation. The church has therefore celebrated this day as The Presentation of Our Lord.
For many Christians in Europe, February 2 has also been known for many centuries as Candlemas, the day on which candles which will be used in homes during the coming year are blessed.
In Luke’s account, Simeon takes Jesus in his arms at the Presentation and proclaims that Jesus is “a light to reveal God to the nations.” This association of Jesus with light led the church to use this occasion to bless candles for use in the coming year, hence “Candle Mass” or Candlemas.
February 2 is also the half-way point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In many folk religions, beliefs and practices arose for predicting the coming of milder weather in the spring. Eventually, many of those traditions became associated with an animal predicting the weather. In Germany the badger became the weather indicator. For many centuries Candlemas Day was observed as Badger Day in Germany. German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the early 1700’s brought this tradition and substituted the local groundhog for the badger.
So today, February 2 is best known to many Pennsylvanians (and others) as Groundhog Day. Much revelry is associated with this day in places like Punxsutawney (in western Pa.) and Pennsylvania Dutch areas like the Lehigh Valley as well as Berks, Lancaster, and other counties.
So Groundhog Day coincides with Candlemas because the Presentation of Our Lord is observed on February 2, a time at which early people longed to know how soon they would have relief from the cold winter weather.
When you hear the prognostication of Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day remember that, regardless of the weather, we can trust that Jesus Christ is light of the world. That light has not and will not be overcome by the darkness of this world. We are called to let the light of Christ shine in us and through us as hope for the world.
Pastor Wayne Matthias-Long