Ron Colone: On the subject of all those scars


In his song, “Subterranean Homesick Blues" — which Arlo Guthrie once called the first rap song — Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” but while we may not need a meteorologist, we do, evidently, need a large rodent to tell us whether the seasons are about to change or whether we’re in for six more weeks of winter.

It seems like such a random holiday. Good as maybe a social studies project for young kids at school or a marketing theme for stores or businesses, but beyond that, it’s pretty much just a gag holiday.

If we trace it back, we find the roots of Groundhog Day in an ancient Celtic Festival called Imbolc, which marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Also sometimes called Oimel, it was one of the four cross-quarter dates between the solstices and the equinoxes (along with Samhain (pronounced saa-wn) Beltaine and Lughnasa, celebrating the seasonal turning points that served as important points of reference in their marking of time.

At Imbolc — with farmers thinking about how far off they were from planting and fishermen deciding if it was time to get the boats out, or whether they should all have to wait a while longer — games and rituals and divination practices to foretell the weather and family fortunes in the coming year became a prominent feature of the festival.

For the ancient Europeans, these holidays were so central to their sense of time that when Christianity came along, about the best that church leaders could hope for was to rebrand the festivals as Christian holidays.

Beltane became May Day, Lughnasa became Lammas or Loaf-Mass Day, Samhain became Halloween and All Saints Day; and Imbolc became Candlemas, a celebration heralding the change of seasons, the end of winter and the return of the light. On that day, people brought their candles to church to be blessed.

Candlemas morphed into various other holidays, including the Church’s Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, but somehow, through each of the variations, weather prognostication remained a part of the ceremony. Christians of the Middle Ages believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold and snow.

In German-speaking parts of Europe, it became known as Badger Day (same concept as Groundhog Day, just a different furry prophet).

German immigrants brought it with them to America as part of their tradition, but in the eastern U.S., including western Pennsylvania where there are no badgers, they substituted it with what they had, giving us Groundhog Day.

A diary entry from Feb. 2, 1840, written by a Welsh shopkeeper in Pennsylvania, notes that, “On this day, the Germans say the groundhog comes out of his winter quarters, and if he sees his shadow he returns in and remains there for 40 days.”

He describes it as a general belief of his German neighbors, not limited to a single family or town, and not new.

I’m with John Lennon, who sang, “you can celebrate anything you want” — and I often do, having created my own personal calendar of holidays that encompasses various religious observances, astronomical, astrological and agricultural events, milestones in music and sports, culinary customs, birthdays of people I’ve known and loved, and historical figures who serve as teachers and spirit guides through time.

As I am also an advocate of family traditions, I’ll raise a symbolic toast to the celebrants of Groundhog Day.

However, rather than waiting around to get the verdict on whether or not a shadow has been cast, for my part, I’ll take a moment to breathe in through every pore I can become aware of and look to clear the clouds and shine the light from the inside out, so as to make the world a little bit brighter.

Every now and then, death does manage to make it through, to reach us and cause us to reflect, generally, if there’s a sense of personal connection and even when it's not a close, personal relationship.

I’m also hoping that this notion of complementarity may serve as a little reminder: that it is possible for us, as individuals and as a group or a society, to hold and allow for seemingly contradictory positions and viewpoints on various issues so as to help bridge social and political divisions. 

Ron Colone can be reached at


Recommended for you