Candlemas and the marmots…

Yesterday we all were updated on Candlemas origins and the connection to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  Today let’s start with some more of the traditions.  There are specific foods to eat.  Generally crepes, pancakes, and cakes made with grain were prepared.  These were used due to the round shape symbolizing the sun and the light of the renewal of faith.  In France tradition held that if you could flip your crepe while holding a coin in the other hand you were guaranteed a year of prosperity.  No crepes in Mexico, tamales are the food for Candlemas there.  Remember those little baby Jesus figures baked into our Three Kings cakes on epiphany?  If you were the one to find it, you get to pay for the tamales on Candlemas!!

Some non-food significance on Candlemas as well.  If you should hear funeral bells on the day, you will hear the news of the death of a close friends or relative- for each toll of the bell, a day will pass until the news.  In Serbia they celebrate Seretenje on Candlemas. This bit of folklore follows the bears rising from their winter hibernation.  If the bears come out and stay awake winter will end soon.  If the bears head back into their caves, 40 more days of winter weather.  Sound familiar??  It should.  It’s almost the same as the Western European tradition using badgers to predict the end of winter.  Here in North America the creature got switched around to a groundhog.  The earliest celebrations of Groundhog Day in the US started with the Pennsylvania Dutch in the mid Nineteenth Century.

The PA Dutch hold festivals full of food, songs, and skits, to signify the importance of the annual Groundhog arrival.  The largest festival is held in Punxsutawney , PA.  Huge crowds, sometimes numbering 40,000 or more, gather to await the arrival of Phil, the resident groundhog.  Phil is your average North American groundhog, which are actually a type of ground squirrel.  He weighs about 15 pounds and lives year round in a climate controlled habitat.  At exactly 7:25 AM on each February 2nd Phil emerges from his heated burrow to appear before the crowd.  Phil is no average hog.  Wild groundhogs like to eat plants, Phil’s diet is dog food and ice cream.  Your average groundhog lives about 10 years.  Phil is said to be over 120 years old!  How does he live so long?  Phil has a group of supporters known as the Inner Circle.  Each summer these top hat wearing folks give Phil a dose of magic groundhog elixir.  This extends Phil’s life another 7 years!  That magic is about it, statistically Phil is accurate only about 40% of the time.

Two other crazy groundhog fun facts.  The University of Dallas actually has Groundhog Day as an official University holiday.  The state of Alaska officially changed the day to Marmot Day.  Seems there aren’t any groundhogs in Alaska.  Governor Palin signed the legislation in 2009.