Could Groundhog's Day be Irish?

What, me worry? So many things in life actually do trace back to Irish, or rather Celtic heritage, but what about Groundhog's Day? I took it upon myself to discover the truth, because I knew you wouldn't have time.

I found a few articles that very loosely related Groundhog's Day to early Celtic feast days in Ireland. First of all, there was Imbolc, signaling the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It was also known as lambing season, when sheep began to lactate for birthing lambs. A lamb is a far cry from a groundhog, you might say, and you'd be right, but stay with me.

After Imbolc there was St. Brigid's Day, honoring the Catholic saint named for a Celtic fertility goddess. This event was celebrated on February 1. By at least one account, ashes in the fireplace were raked smooth at night and then checked in the morning to see if the saint had visited. Still no groundhog, but there's something about making an appearance that may have informed the modern event.

Then we have Candlemas, which was February 2. Now this involved fire and purification, with candle processions and special foods celebrating the birth of spring. I'm sure it was quite a good time, but with all that purification going on, to my mind more likely inspired the annual spring cleaning.

But then I came across a short paragraph by one writer, saying Groundhog Day traces straight back to the Romans. They used a European hedgehog, though. I'm not sure whether the hedgehog was more astute in weather prediction than, say, Punxsutawney Phil.

Personally, I like the legend of Cailleach, a mythical old woman who gathered firewood for the rest of winter. If she wanted winter to last longer she'd make a sunny day so she could collect more wood. If she was tired she'd sleep in, and let the day be dark. I think she deserved a far better public image to follow her, though. Couldn't she have been a sleek horse? Or maybe a black cat? But no, a groundhog. Really?

I'd like to tell you groundhogs are cute and cuddly, and therefore deserving of the attention they receive, even if they aren't Irish and they aren't much help with the weather. But I found more evidence online that in fact most groundhogs are aggressive and mean, and it takes a lot of hard work to tame them.

But I think maybe such a demeanor is appropriate, so that Groundhog Day can remain grumpy and mysterious. It's how we all feel, waiting for the winter to end.

 

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