Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day And The Rube's Liturgical Calendar

The folklore regarding today is that the hibernating groundhog (Marmota monax) leaves its burrow. Should said rodent see his shadow, it will be frightened and return to hibernation, portending six more weeks of winter. Leaving aside the fact that winter is already pretty close to gone in the Gulf States, and that the tilting planet can tease points not too far south of here with “false spring” in late January, you’ve gotta wonder what a sunny February 2 has to do with weather prediction.

Weather folklore is pretty common. “Red sails at night, sailor’s delight,” etc. “March comes in like a lamb, and goes out like a lion,” which can easily happen, given that the seasons are changing as we approach the equinox, or “A March that comes in like a lamb, goes out like a lion,” which is a much riskier proposition.

I like St. Swithin’s Day, July 15, which is unique, I think, to the United Kingdom, one of those cloudy gray rocks where the Gulf Stream enters the North Sea.  They say you can predict the next forty days’ -- almost six weeks’ --  weather by the weather on St. Swithin’s day. It even has a ditty:

St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.'

(Should Billy Bragg be reading this, mentioning promises made on St. Swithin’s Day, is apt in a song about lost love, but how does the Battle of Agincourt, associated with an entirely different saint, whose feast is three months later, fit?)

February 2 is also Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of The Virgin. A Jewish mother of two thousand years ago was considered unclean for forty days after giving birth. She went to the temple on the fortieth day, sacrificed a lamb, received the priests’ prayers, and was clean once more. When Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion, Candlemas replaced Lupercalia (celebrated on February 15, the day after our St. Valentine’s Day), the feast of the god Lupercus, the Roman equivalent of Pan, which is getting closer to the real sense of Groundhog Day.

In the Celtic pagan calendar, Groundhog Day coincides with Imbolc, which is a feast of purification and returning warmth. In ancient Britain, people would watch, shivering in hope, to see if animals emerged from their dens, predicting an early spring. In fact they usually did emerge, even if the people kept shivering. This is a time when beasts and birds mate, and we have been hearing songbirds trying to hook up, here in Minneapolis, for about a week.

One of Sam’s grade school teachers pointed out to me, that a clear sky means a high-pressure area, and that warm weather won’t move in, until the high passes. Which doesn’t explain the six weeks business, but contains a reductionist kernel of sense.


Von said...

40 days in Britain without rain? Never!!!!
Interesting and enjoyable post gain.

Tom Roark said...

It must always rain on St. Swithin's Day, then.