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Many variations on the same thing

This week we had Groundhog Day, that day made famous in pop culture by Bill Murray, when he lives February 2nd over and over again until he learns that he must make the most of what life has given him. I thought I would share the more historical interpretation, which has some similarities, but more complexity (and of course, some food elements as well).

As history tells it, the original name for Groundhog Day is Candlemas. It was a celebratory feast to commemorate the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, and included blessing the candles that would be used throughout the coming year (Jesus was seen as a symbol of light or revelation, so the connection with candles is certainly logical.) It was also known as the earliest of festivals celebrating the Virgin Mary. With the light stretching further through the day, it signifies the first leap to spring and in fact was considered by some to be the start of the spring season. (Here lies the connection to our current rodent-centric customs.) Significant things to remember about the more secular Candlemas traditions are that this is when any symbols of Christmas are to be removed (this formally ends the Christmas season, being 40 days later); and beginning a voyage at sea is not recommended on this day (sailors believed it would end in disaster). If you followed the tradition of Epiphany on January 6th that I spoke of in an earlier column, having won the figurine in the Three Kings Tart would mean you were beholden to host a party on Candlemas.

Being the point of transition between seasons, whether you consider religious seasons or nature’s seasons, our Groundhog Day has a noble history. When our favourite rodent in various North American cities peeks his nose out from his winter slumber, he offers an omen of the days to come, but it is based in some kind of logic, as traditions often are. Groundhogs aren’t scared of their shadows, and sailors aren’t scared to sail on a calendar date, but they know weather patterns. The same is true with foodie traditions that occur at festival time. If you missed these this year, you can look this column up again next year as inspiration. Or maybe you want to create your own festival to kick away those winter blues? There are some good ideas here:

    In France, they celebrate by eating crepes, but only after 8 pm – are they waiting for the winter moon to rise, and the crepes symbolize the shape? If you can flip a crepe successfully while holding a coin in the other hand you will see prosperity in the coming year (of course you will – you just kept the coin, didn’t you?!)

    In Spain, they celebrate by eating tamales, as the planting of the corn can begin as early as this. Even if you don’t want to be that elaborate in your cooking, a bit of cornbread or even a muffin could stand in as a nod for the tradition of farmers beginning their work of the season. (Do you even need another reason to stop at Timmies?)

In Ireland, they put a loaf of bread on the windowsill as an offering for St. Birgid, who is associated with both a pagan goddess of fertility and a saint in County Kildare. (Remember, it’s still a wee bit cold, so it’s okay to consume those carbohydrates, right?)

I hope these ideas lead to inspiration. If not, well, never fear. We have Mardi Gras coming up next, and that certainly deserves celebrating. Or I suppose, if you need immediate gratification and are sorry you missed the significant date for these offerings, you could just break open the snacks and enjoy the Superbowl on Sunday with some friends. Whatever works, cheers to you! Stay warm – the groundhog I listened to said we only have a little while longer to hold out!!

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