I know, you can all hardly wait, as it has finally arrived and soon we will be able to celebrate with the usual food and drink that accompanies the whole event…
Did you think I was speaking of the Superbowl? I suppose that could be a reasonable assumption, but I was actually thinking of that other big event this weekend – Groundhog Day. It really is a big thing in those locales where there is a resident rodent to “prognosticate” on the status of the coming spring. In a country where weather is a large part of our daily water-cooler talk and even our identity, it is surprising that we do not make more of this effort to encourage spring along! After all, for those of us who have not already escaped to some warmer clime to fend off the aches in our bones from the biting cold, this is one bright spot. February has no other holiday in it, for goodness sake!
Okay, so maybe I am taking those beer ads too seriously (you know, the ones that say we have two seasons – July and winter?!) But in the doldrums of the month that is the shortest but often seems the longest, I for one think any excuse for a celebration is a reasonable one. I plan to watch the Superbowl, and I plan to celebrate Groundhog Day too. Valentines’ Day is good for a bit of warmth if you can beat the commercial superficiality out of it, and if I can find some folks who want to come over for a Mardi Gras Party, then before I know it spring will be here (whether the little rodent sees his shadow or not!)
I went to visit the website for the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, where the whole week’s events are posted by the hour, from the pancake breakfast to the Punxy Phil Anything Goes Chili and Wings Cook Off (I kid you not, these are real events. I guess you need sustenance in between visiting the weather centre exhibits and the weddings at Phil’s chapel, not to mention the Prognosticators’ Ball and the midnight showing of the Bill Murray movie.) I found this news most encouraging, and so I say why argue? If you haven’t been celebrating this special holiday, you are 121 years behind good old Phil in Pennsylvania, and centuries behind Christian tradition that recognized Candlemas as a time to begin events of the coming year (all the candles were blessed at this time).
Whether you prefer a serious celebration of the coming year, or a recognition of the fact that we are halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, or even just that a relatively well-fed rodent bothered to poke his head up and tip his hat in our direction… well, any of those events on February 2 is a good way to start a new month and to continue enjoying this life. Perhaps to keep it exciting, I will plan the menu once I see the forecast – stew if winter is staying, and seafood if spring is coming. Either way, with some good friends in attendance, it will be a wonderful celebration, I am sure. Cheers to you!
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!!