Wednesday, February 1, 2017


   Annually celebrated in United States and Canada on February 2nd, Groundhog Day is a well known holiday that revolves around the popular weather lore of the coming out of a groundhog from its burrow on this date to look for its shadow. The winter is nearing an end if the groundhog sees its shadow and if it retreats into its hole in its absence the cold season is likely to continue for 6 more weeks.

The Origins & Beliefs

   Groundhog Day, celebrated across the United States and Canada,  is purely a North American tradition. It is based on a belief that on this day (February 2nd) the groundhog, or woodchuck, comes out of hole after winter hibernation to look for its shadow. If the shadow is seen, it's a sunny day. And the groundhog foretells 'six more weeks of bad weather' and thus a lingering winter. But spring is coming if no shadow is seen because of clouds. The groundhog then behaves accordingly. It goes back into the hole if the weather turns bad, but stays above ground if spring is near.
   Thus weather prediction or prognostication came as an integral feature of Groundhog Day tradition. This prediction owes its origin to the European tradition of Candlemas. There is an old European supposition that a sunny Candlemas day would lead the winter to last for 'another six weeks'. Also celebrated on February 2, the was used to commemorate the Purification of the Virgin Mary. Candles for sacred uses were blessed on this day. Gradually the traditions at this Candlemas came to associate with them different folklores. The German added the belief of an animal, initially a hedgehog, being frightened by his shadow on Candlemas would foretell that winter would last another six weeks. This belief was brought in America during the 18th Century by the German settlers. These settlers adopted the groundhog as their weather predictor.

   Groundhog Day came into being in North America during the late 1800s. Thanks to the combined effort of Clymer H. Freas, a newspaper editor, and W. Smith, an American Congressman and newspaperpublisher. They organized and popularized a yearly festival in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the State was populated predominantly by German settlers. The festival featured a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil which used to foretell how long the winter would last. This very popular event is still being held and is called Groundhog Day.
    There has been a concerted effort in popularizing and commercializing the Groundhog Day across the United States. Chuck Wood is The Committee for the commercialization of Groundhog Day's official mascot. The movie "Groundhog Day," has played a key role in popularizing the schedule of Events in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on and around February 2. Apart from Pennsylvania, fascinating Groundhog Day events are also held in other states, especially, Nebraska, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, Arkansas, and California.
   Groundhog Day is also very popular in Canada and Wiarton Willy is the Groundhog that is used to predict the length of winter over there.

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Trailing The Tradition

   Historically the month of February bears a special significance to the people in the North. This is evident through various traditions and rites prevalent in this part of the world for thousands of years.
    Predicting the onset of the Spring had been a common practice even in the ancient times as much of the harvest yield was hinged on the change on weather.
  The ancient civilizations would greet this time of the year by performing rites to the rising power of the springtime sun. And these rites were agricultural in nature and performed mostly by the farmers.
    The earlier Romans in the pre-Christian era celebrated February 1 as the Feast of Lights. Lighted torches were carried in procession in a springtime rebirth ritual. The tradition witnessed a carryover in the Christian era and was glorified by linking it with Christ. For, what we celebrate as the Groundhog Day these days has since long been celebrated as the Candlemas across Europe.
     A clear, sunny day on a Candlemas was one of the worst things that could happen. Fair conditions would bring at least forty more days of snowy, rigorous winter. On the other hand, an overcast and generally miserable Candlemas promised a fat and early summer.

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   An old tradition was that Christmas decorations were taken down by Candlemas.   Though it is still kept in some places, but for the most part it has been set forward to January 6, the day of Epiphany. The 17th Century English poet Robert Herrick wrote concerning this removal:

Down with the Rosemary, and so
Down with the Baies, and mistletoe;
Down with the Holly, Ivie, all
Wherewith ye drest the Christmas Hall.

    To leave them up longer was to invite bad luck. The plants were burned and their ashes along with the ashes of the Yule log, were cast upon the fields, giving the earth new powers to promote growth in the spring.

Mythological link:
   According to Greek mythology, Proserpine had been abducted into the underworld by Pluto. The goddess Ceres, her mother, and the candle bearing celebrants searched for her in the winter darkness, bringing the reviving light was justifiably taken over by the Christian Church. The sacred light symbolized the Christ Child who was "a light for revelation to the Gentiles," and Mary was the Mother of God - the Theotokas- the lightbearer". The Mother and Son thus shared equally in the festival of Candlemas.

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About The Groundhog

   A groundhog is a marmot of North American variety with a reddish brown fur and a rough bushy tail. Also called woodchuck, though it is no way related with chucking of wood.
   Being a rodent type groundhog is basically a burrowing mammal and lives in a hole in the ground (this is why the name!). It goes into a deep long slumber during the winter and comes out of the hole when the spring is on the verge. For a groundhog the moths before and after winter are very important. This is when the marmot remains extremely busy, searching for food, looking for a nice mate, helping the family grow, making good storage, furnishing new home (or hole) and getting thoroughly prepared for the next winter. The more active the groundhog remains during the summer the happier he spends the winter.
    Now the legend: According to the traditional belief it comes out of the hole after checking out its own shadow. This is where it applies its wit, or that is what the legend says:
    If a shadow of its own is seen under the sun, it slips back into the hole. For, it knows the winter is yet to be over by another six weeks.

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    If no shadow, it comes out finally. For, it predicts, the spring is close by
    Though there is no statistical evidence favoring this belief, it is fact that the woodchuck is a very nervous creature. It gets terribly scared with the slightest provocation and sprints back in to its hole.
    It is also a very shy animal and stays away from all possible human presence. There is, however, no evidence that a woodchuck has the power of predicting the change of season by studying the shadow.
    Well, many of us just laugh away the capability of groundhog. They say, if a groundhog really goes back to its hole on seeing its own shadow that is due to its nervous and scary nature. After such long time of underground sleep detached from the outer world, it simply gets startled by its own shadow and runs back to its cozy, secured home to be pent up for a few more weeks.

    Yes, it is only a possible explanation. But who knows if this met-marmot has got some magical power to foretell the arrival of spring!

Seasons and Shadows

   As the Earth orbits the sun it follows two motions. One is the spinning motion around the Earth's own axis. This motion causes the days and nights. The other motion along the elliptical orbit takes a year to complete one full rotation around the sun. Seasons are caused by the Earth's axis being inclined at about 23-1/2o with the orbital plane. As the Earth orbits the sun its axis always points to the same direction.
     In December the North Pole is leaning away from the sun and the Northern hemisphere receives less sunlight. The days are short and the sun is low in the sky so the sunlight is spread thinly over the Earth's surface. The sun is lowest in the sky on December 22, the winter solstice. The Northern Hemisphere receives so less sunlight that the Earth continues to get colder for another month. Thus January is colder than December. And the coldest time comes about the end of January. Things just get reverse as we move down to the southern hemisphere across the Equator.
    Thus seasons are defined by this gradual shifting movement between the summer solstice and winter solstice. As we move on from winter to summer, or, the other way round, we come across four seasons, distinct especially in the temperate zones. Moving from the winter, in spring it gets warmer, in summer, hot. In autumn it gets cooler, in winter cold. Spring comes earlier down in southern areas than farther in the north.  This is just the reverse in the southern hemisphere.

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    As light emitting from a source gets hit by an opaque object a shadow is created away from the source and on the other side of the object.
    Shadows under the sun are created when the sunrays get hit by any opaque object - living or not. As the sun moves on from east to west shadows are created. Thus shadows are the longest when the sun is in the east or, west horizon. At around noon when the sun is perched just overhead, the shadows get reduced to a minimal length.
The movement of shadow in sync with the sun could be applied in making a sundial, the earliest form of clock known to give a near perfect reading.
     This shadow movement also changes with the change of season. In winter as the North Pole leans away from the sun light falls a bit slantingly on the objects in the North.
Thus shadows are always a little longer throughout the winter days as against those during the summer. The variation in this shadow movement also helps us to predict the shifting of the seasons.
     Now is it really possible to predict if spring is near or far?
    Well, on February the sunlight is already bound for summer as the North Pole comes nearer the sun. The length of shadow is thus somewhat shorter, but not remarkably enough. So it is difficult to distinguish between a late January and a late February shadow unless you are a keen regular observer.


   Pongal is a harvest festival-the Tamil equivalent of Thanksgiving.  In an agriculture based civilization, the harvest plays an important part.  The farmer cultivating his land depends on cattle, timely rain and the Sun.  Once a year, he expresses his gratitude to these during the harvest festival.  With the end of the est month of Margazhi (mid December to mid January) the new Tamil month of Thai heralds a series of festivals.  The first day of the month is a festival day known as "Pongal Day".  Pongal means the 'boiling over" of milk and rice during the month of Thai.

    The act of boiling over of milk in the clay pot is considered to denote future prosperity for the family.  Traditionally celebrated at harvest time, it is a celebration of the prosperity associated with the harvest by thanking the rain, sun and the farm animals that have helped in the harvest.  Pongal is celebrated by the Indian state of Tamil Ndu as well as Tamils worldwide, including those in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauitius, South Africa, USA, Canada and Singapore.  The festival is at least 1000 years old although some believe that the festival is more that 2000 years old.  It used to be celebrated as Puthiyeedu during Medieval Chola empire days.  It is thought the Puthiyeedu meant the first harvest of the year.  People of all religions celebrate the Pongal festival.

    Tamils refer to Pongal as "Tamizhar Thirunal" (meaning "the festival of Tamils").  This festival originated in Tamil Nadu.  The saying "Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum" meaning "the birth of the month of Thai will have the way for new opportunities", often is quoted regarding the Pongal festival.
   Usually, the festival takes place January 12th to the 15th (on the Gregorian calandar).  The festival is celebrated 4 days from the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi (December-January) to the third day of Thai (January-February).  The first day, Bhogi, is celebrated by throwing away and destroying old clothes and materials, by setting them on fire, marking the end of the old Thai and the emergence of the new Thai.

   The astronomical significance of the festival is that it marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the sun's movement northward for a six month period.  Markar Sankranthi refers to the event of the sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara (Capricorn).  While Pongal is predominantly a Tamil festival, similar festivals are also celebrated in several other Indian states under different names.  In Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka, the harvest festival Sankranthi is celebrated.  In northern India, it is called Makara Sankranti.  In Maharashtra and Gujarat, it is celebrated on the date of the annual kite flying day, Uttarayah.  It also coincides with the bonfire and harvest festval in Punjab and Haryana, known as Lohri.  Similar harvest festivals in the same time frame are also celebrated by farmers in Burma, Cambodia, and Korea.


   February's not just about Super Bowl Sunday, Valentines Day and Mardi Gras.  Nope, this month has some pretty interesting days to celebrate to say the least.
  • Serpent Day, February 1st-Go out and pet a snake or if you don't like them. Pet some snake skinned cowboy boots.

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  • Purification Day, February 2nd-Go out and wash real well today!

  • Cordova Ice Worm Day, February 3rd-This day is for worms found in icebergs.  Alaska actually has an annual Ice Worm Festival that takes place on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.

  • Create a Vacuum Day, February 4th-Go out and clean all of that pet hair and dirt out of your carpets.

  • Disaster Day, February 5th-Might be a good day to stay inside and play scrabble.

  • Lame Duck Day, February 6th-

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  • Charles Dickens Day Day, February 7th-One of the best early authors of his time, he wrote "A Christmas Carol", and has had many of his books turned into movies.

  • Man Day, February 7th-

  • Fly a Kite Day, February 8th-Hope the wind is in your favor on this day.

  • Read in the bathtub Day, February 9th-Get a favorite book, a glass of your favorite drink, a nice warm bath with bubbles and some nice heavy metal music to relax to.

  • Umbrella Day, February 10th-Maybe some rain will come your way.

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  • White T-Shirt Day, February 11th-Go to your dresser and pick out a fresh one to wear.

  • Don't Cry over spilled Milk Day, February 11th-Laugh at spilled milk in the face today!

  • Get a Different Name Day, February 13th-Change your name to Ochocinco...... like that's gonna happen.

  • National Condom Day, February 14th-Go out and have some safe sex with your wife or other partner.

  • Quirky Alone Day, February 14th-This is my kind of day.  We need to at least spend one day a month by ourselves doing what we want.  It helps with our sanity.

  • Ferris Wheel Day, February 14th-Go out for a spin or two or three or four or...

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  • Do a Grouch a Favor Day, February 16th-Go to a retirement home and make someone happy.

  • Champion Crab Races Day, February 17th-Ready!  Set!  Run sideways!!!

  • National Battery Day, February 18th-Take your old batteries in and recycle them don't just throw them in the trash.

  • Hoodie Hoo Day, February 20th-At high noon climb up in a tree.  Stand like an owl.  And yell Hoooddie Hooo!!!

  • Love Your Pet Day, February 20th-Who doesn't love their pets??  Maybe go to a shelter and give someone a new home.

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  • Card Reading Day, February 21st-You're holding the Jack of Spades! Right?

  • Be Humble Day, February 22nd-Many a man is served this from his wife.  What's that honey?... Yes Dear!

  • National Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day, February 23rd-Go out and buy a box and share them with the neighbor dogs.  Maybe that'll keep them from barking every time you walk past their houses.

  • Pistol Patent Day, February 25th-We honor Samuel Colt on this day.

  • Tell a Fairy Tale Day, February 26th-Once upon a time.....Oh, I'll save this story for another day.

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  • For Pete's Sake Day, February 26th-For Pete's Sake!  Can you please get out of the bathroom!  I've got to go bad!!!

  • Polar Bear Day, February 27th-If you have a zoo in your town, drive on over and throw them a couple fish.

  • Public Sleeping Day, February 28th-Take your sleeping bag with you to the park and find a comfortable bench on which to perch your body on.

  • Gone ta Pott Day, February 28th-Wait, I'll be right back.  I've got to use the Pot.

  • National Tooth Fairy Day, February 28th-Oh boy!  Oh boy! I could use a shiny quarter.  But do I have any extra teeth to spare!!