Monday, February 02, 2015

Groundhog Day - a History

This February celebration began as a pagan holiday when people ran around naked to urge an early end to winter. It's got more boring with time.

The earliest celebrations were called Februa and later Lupercalia.  Februa was when the shepherds would give themselves their first real baths of the year. Getting naked for washing in a purification ritual just sort of naturally evolved into a randy party in honor of that randy god, Pan. The Romans added a reference to the cave Lupercal where a wolf had raised Romulus and Remus but kept the party atmosphere dressed only in a goatskin loincloth.

As always, when Christians came to power they saw a popular holiday where everybody had fun and they hated it. But, Romans were used to a purification celebration in early February so early Christians simply rebranded it. They chose an obscure biblical event when a priest and a prophetess spotted the baby Jesus and recognized him as the Messiah and applied it to February 2. They kept the purification theme but replaced the loinclothes with candles (not like that, you pervert). Dancing about nearly naked was replaced with slowly walking around, fully clothed, holding candles in solemn reverence.

Groundhog Day
In the cold of Northern Europe, February 2 was also the traditional day when bears and other hibernating mammals, like groundhogs, would rouse themselves from their winter's sleep to take a look around. If it was bright and sunny (and cold) they'd conclude that winter wasn't through and go back to bed for a brief, six week, nap. If, however, it was miserable and raining they knew that the snow was done for the season and it was time to get up. When Christianity came to Germany they never could reconcile parading around with candles and the cold, furry animal tradition. Candlemas became a forgotten holy day in the Protestant calendar while the Germanic tradition lived on as Groundhog Day.

Then Bill Murray made the perfect movie and time stopped.

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