February 2, 2011 by staff 

Candlemas, (AP) – The most famous groundhog predicted an early spring world Wednesday, but was not ready to go out on a limb to predict whether the Pittsburgh Steelers will win next Sunday’s Super Bowl. Punxsutawney Phil emerged just after dawn on Groundhog Day to make his 125th annual weather forecasts before a smaller crowd than usual that braved mud, ice conditions to hear managers reveal that he had not seen his shadow.

Including Wednesday’s forecast, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and did not see that 16 times since 1887, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club by Inner Circle, which runs the event. There are no records for the remaining years, if the group has continued to issue forecasts.

Two years ago, forecast Phil has also recognized the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl XLIII win the day. This year, Sunday’s game was mentioned in the forecast, but no winner has been provided between the Steelers and Packers Green Bay, who will gather in Dallas to Super Bowl XLV.

“The Steelers are the Super Bowl, Mike Johnson, vice president of the Inner Circle, said just before the forecast was read, drawing cheers from the crowd clearly supporters gathered at Gobbler’s Knob, a small hill in the district of approximately 6,100 residents about 65 miles north of Pittsburgh.

The celebration of Groundhog Day is rooted in a German superstition that says that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow Feb. 2 the Christian holiday of Candlemas winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, legend said spring would come early.

The Christian celebration of Candlemas old also falls on February 2 or 40 days after the Nativity. Like many major religious events, the first Christian church attached dates for festivals coincided with Pagan cut if Roman or Gaelic, perhaps to help assimilate with local traditions. Similarly, St. Brigid, one of the patron saints of Ireland, is often regarded as a Christianization of the early Gaelic goddess Brigid, in addition interlacing of these dates and customs. As the Romans swept Europe in the early first century, bringing with them Christianity, local traditions have been integrated, adapted and disseminated. These were distributed after the withdrawal of the Romans, when the Germanic tribes had a go at the British Isles.

Whatever the belief system or folklore, the underlying meaning of the season in the first days of February has long been recognized in one-way or another. And as with other ancient customs related to cross-quarter days (eg Halloween), respect for this midwinter’s astronomical calendar made its way through the ages and across the Atlantic for us here in the good old U.S. of A. Can you believe our own Groundhog Day is a derivative of these traditions? Pennsylvania German immigrants to this charming folklore with them to America, and have been with us nearly in its present form since the 18th or 19th century. The Germans were part of the hedgehog. They’re being no hedgehogs in America (other than Sonic the Hedgehog); we went with the groundhog here in the states. Yes, Punxsutawney Phil can trace the origins of his fame at the age of British Rail. Who knew?

February may actually be my favorite month of the year, maybe just under the following January. I know we’re still in the throes of winter, and some of our biggest snowfall ever nailed us in February, but it is always the month when spring is to take some for the first time. Maybe I’m a little overzealous, but something in February feels like the dimmer is turned up a little.

Clearly, ancient civilizations felt that too, because many of them marked the beginning of February with the customs and festivals. In Ireland, the ancient festival of Imbolc, also called the Feast of St. Brigid’s was celebrated on the first day of the month, which the Gaels former considered the beginning of spring. The middle days between the solstices and equinoxes are called “cross-quarter” day and were all considered important to ancient people. Ireland has its own Stonehenge-esque monuments that mark the position of the sun rising on these dates. Imbolc, Old Irish, meaning “in the belly”, referring to the sheep who are pregnant with spring lambs. The festival has been and is associated with hearth and home, and is a celebration of the lengthening of days, the reduction of shadows, and the arrival of spring.

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