Thoughts and assorted philosophical musing about: Family, Friends, Fun, Hobbies, & other everyday things.
My continuing efforts to serve as a First Sergeant (Top) in the Army of God.
My latest interest is in Letterboxing.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Superhog Day - Superbowls and Groundhogs

Here it is midwinter and it has been frigid outside. While shut in by the cold, I have been working on getting a hydroponic winter garden started. It is a project that I should have begun much earlier in the year, and one that has been a real learning experience. My main objective is to grow some tomatoes that taste like real tomatoes instead of those pasty supermarket things. I hope it will work out. Next weekend we have a family birthday gathering in Toledo which I must finish getting ready for. I have been having unrelenting cravings for more smoked turkey and so smoking a breast is on my list for as soon as the weather warms enough to be outside tending to it. I also want to bake some bread, a sourdough loaf from my own secret recipe. All of that plus I hope to put out another letterbox "Berea Bart (or perhaps Barth a well know Berea family name)".

Instead I am preoccupied with this Groundhog-Candlemas thing. I promised to review the history of this holiday for you and to give you some ideas that you could incorporate into your Superbowl weekend. So today I am offering a very compressed history and passing along some celebration ideas. I have cut it down a lot, but I know this still takes up a lot of blog-sphere. I will not get to discussing Pennsylvania or the Movie today with two exceptions - Cookies and a Challenge.

So picking up more or less where I left off. Bears, badgers, candles, Celtic grain rituals, ancient prophecies, and the Virgin Mary - February 2nd has one of the richest traditional mixtures of any holiday we celebrate. And yet, we barely celebrate it today.

The only things most North Americans associate with February 2nd are Punxsutawney Phil and the movie Groundhog Day. These modern additions are like the stones from the foundation of a long-leveled building. Before we disparage the modern remnants of the holiday, and maybe the whole holiday with it, it might be good to take a closer look at how Groundhog Day contributes to the richly woven tapestry of this season. Then, maybe we can decide what, if anything, February 2nd "means," or "should mean," or could mean, if we took the time to think about it. Of course this year Groundhog day falls on a work day which is the Monday following the Superbowl. This presents a real challenge for those living around Punxsutawney as the nearby Pittsburgh Sealers will be playing in that game. Folks out Phil's way will either have to choose between the Superbowl and groundhog day, or to somehow wed them together. Ta da dada - Superhog Day

The History of this Holiday: February 2, a True Midwinter Feast, is the middle of winter as astronomers calculate it (the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox - A cross-quarter day). Pre-Christian Celtic cultures celebrated this time of year by holding ceremonies to bless the spring planting. Many cultures celebrated the fact that by this time you could really tell that the days were getting longer, the ewes were carrying lambs, and the ice was thinning over the lakes and rivers. Germanic legend had it that badgers and bears came out of their caves on February 2nd to see if it was warm enough to stop hibernating.

About the fourth century, Christians began commemorating the day that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple. By the 6th century the Catholic Church had declared, February 2 was “The Feast of the Purification of Mary”. You may remember that a prophet named Simeon predicted that Jesus would bring "a light of revelation to the Gentiles." So the feast day became associated with candles. Each community's elder or priest would pray a blessing over candles, and then pass them out for people to take into their homes where they serve as talismans and protections from all sorts of disasters. This custom is the origin for the name Candle-mass. In Hungary February 2nd is called “Gyertyazsenteio Boidog Asszony” (Blessing of the Candle of the Happy Woman). In Poland, it is called “Swieto Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej” (Mother of God Who Saves Us from Thunder).

Actually, this festival has always been associated with fire. In ancient Armenia, this was the date of the pagan spring festival in honor of Mihr, the God of fire. Originally, fires were built in his honor in open places and a lantern was lit which burned in the temple throughout the year. When Armenia became Christian, the fires were built in church courtyards instead. People danced about the flames, jumped over them and carried home embers to kindle their own fires from the sacred flames.

During the middle ages and renaissance, the feast took on other meanings. In parts of England, Candlemas became the day to take down your Christmas greenery and start spring cleaning.

In Ireland, this holy day is called Imbolc and begins at sunset on February 1 continuing through sunset February 2nd. There are several different derivations offered for the name Imbolc: from Ol-melc (ewe's milk) because the ewes are lactating at this time, from Im-bolg (around the belly) in honor of the swelling belly of the earth goddess, and from folcaim (I wash) because of the rites of purification which took place at this time. All of these explanations capture the themes of this festival. February 1st is the feast day of St. Brigid, who began her life as a pagan grain goddess and ended up a Christian saint. She was a fire and fertility goddess. In her temple at Kildare, vestal virgins tended an eternal fire. On her feast day, her statue was washed in the sea (purification) and then carried in a cart through the fields surrounded by candles. The legends about the goddess, Brigid, gradually became associated with Saint Brigid who founded the first convent in Ireland at Kildare. To celebrate St. Brigid's day, people put out a loaf of bread on the windowsill for the Saint and an ear of corn for her white cow, offerings for the grain goddess like the loaf buried in the first furrow. A small quantity of special seeds are mixed with those to be sown. Wheat stalks are woven into X-shaped crosses to serve as charms to protect home from fire and lightning. In the Highlands, women dress the corn doll or last sheaf (from Lammas or the autumn equinox) in a bridal gown and put her in a basket, which is called the Bride's bed. A wand, candle or other phallic object is laid across her and Bride is invited to come, for her bed is ready. The theme of purification remained a link between the two holy days. Eventually the celebration came to be called Candlemas.

Since Lent can sometimes begin as early as February 4th, some Candlemas customs became associated with Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and the beginning of Lent, which is a time of purification.

Ideas for modern interpretations: What do you do on Candlemas if you haven't had a baby lately or if you're a guy? Well, you dress up in your best clothes, burn lots of candles and sing songs of praise. Maybe for good measure, you could throw in a feast and invite friends over. That sounds to me like the makings for a Superbowl party except I would not dress up for it.

Celebrating Candlemas Candles and Christmas Greens. The main element of a decorating scheme for Candlemas is fairly obvious: candles. You can gather all the candles in your home in one room and light them from one central candle. Or place a candle in each window. Candlemas is one of the traditional times for taking down Christmas decorations. They are tinder dry but, If you are very careful you can burn them. Or, better yet, return them to the earth mother by using them for compost or mulch. Of course as with any other activity involving open flames appropriate precautions and supervision are necessary.

Feast Food: Certain foods are traditional for Candlemas (It is a feast after all), including crepes, pancakes and cakes, all grain-based foods. Pancakes and crepes are considered symbols of the sun because of their round shape and golden color. I will offer more on this next time.

Purification and Renewal: If you have a fireplace, clean out your hearth and then light a new fire. Sit around the fire and reflect on your hopes for the coming year. What do you hope to accomplish? What are you passionate about? What seeds do you wish to plant? Discuss these ideas with others or write them down in a journal but make them concrete in some way so that on Lammas (August 2nd, the festival of the first harvest), you can look back to see what progress you’ve made. Since Candlemas is often considered the beginning of spring, you can perform another ritual act of purification: spring cleaning. This would be a good time to do a thorough house cleaning, sweeping the floors with salt water, banishing the gloom of winter and creating a sparkling, shiny new setting for spring. If you plan your own ceremony, use these two powerful symbols: fire and water. For instance, wash your hands and bathe your face in salt water, which is especially good for purification. Light a candle as you make your pledge. You may wish to incorporate seeds, the third symbol of the holiday, by planting a seed or bulb in a pot to symbolize your commitment, or by blessing a bowl or packet of seeds that you will plant later.

Brigid is the goddess of creative inspiration as well as reproductive fertility. This is a good time for sharing creative work or, if you don't think of yourself as especially creative, an idea that worked or a plan that materialized. Be thankful for whatever past inspirations you have received and plan for a future work dedicated to filling some special need that you are being inspired to address.

Making Pledges and Commitments: Since Candlemas is a time of new beginnings, this is a good day to ritually celebrate all things new. Plan a ceremony to name a new baby, officially welcome a new person into a family or "plight your troth" (pledge your undying commitment) to your beloved. You might make a commitment to a goal similar to a New Years resolution.

Have you ever given anything up for Lent?
If not, you might consider it. You don’t have to be Catholic to gain spiritual benefits from the voluntary surrender of something you cherish. You can give up something frivolous or something serious, but it should be something you will notice. Folk wisdom says it takes six weeks (or approximately the 40 days of Lent) to establish a new habit, so you may end up with a lifestyle change. Kids are often eagerly to embrace the idea of giving up something for Lent. We have heard of one little girl who gave up TV for Lent and another who gave up catchup, her favorite food. Forty days is enough time to notice the difference in the way you feel without a favorite substance or distraction.

I promised to talk about the cookies. I wanted to get the information out now to give you enough time in case you want to get a groundhog cookie cutter. They are readily available on the Internet. Try Groundhogstuff.com or Google it. In a tradition which appears to have been started in Punxsutawney, PA it has become popular to prepare cut out cookies shaped like a groundhog for this special day. The often used "official" recipe for this cookie, a type of gingerbread which has currents embedded for eyes, can be obtained here. I was unable to locate a photo of these on line, therefore I must confess that I ripped this one off from Penzey's One magazine


And now I will present that challenge!
My first posting
"Chuck this Weather" contained the following opening lines.
Q: Who ya'gona call!

A: Snow buster Chucky!
Of course you did recognized that as a play on the "Ghostbusters" theme, Right!

So what is the connection between Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day?
If you think that you know, send me email with your answer!

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