There it is on the calendar for February 2: “Ground Hog Day.” I don’t know who selects which days to note on the system my smart phone uses but one of the “holidays” chosen is “Ground Hog Day.” Now there is something to be noted on the calendar for almost every day. For example did you know that if you go forward a few months that April 2 is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day? Now that I had to learn on my own, my calendar does not list that one or many others. But “Ground Hog Day” was selected.
Now for the life of me, I can’t think of a single thing I need to do to prepare for “Ground Hog Day”. In fact I have never even seen a ground hog. Just so you will know, it is a rodent who is a member of the ground squirrel family. And its claim to fame is its alleged ability for forecast the weather.
The earliest historical reference I could find to this day was in Pennsylvania in 1841. From that beginning has grown most famous of ground hogs, Punxsutawney Phil. In the town in southeastern Pennsylvania, thousands gather each year to observe in the early morning hours of February 2. The TV networks are there to give national coverage.
The most common historical theory is the tradition came from ancient European weather lore. In Europe the tradition, which centered around a badger or sacred bear, fell on Feb. 2, the turning of the Celtic Calendar. It is also about half way between the shortest of days and the Spring Equinox, when the daylight and night are evenly divided.
Some would see a connection with “Candlemas” a tradition for some Christians that is on the same date. There are poems from England and Scotland that would imply that the weather on this date is a forecast of when spring will arrive.
The Ground Hog that appear to be close to Covington, that I could find reference to, is General Beauregard Lee in Lilburn. The General did reside at Stone Mountain but he or his ancestor was moved from the Park at some point. The other nearby, is a ground hog named Gus who resides in Athens. I am sure that neither of these were natives of the area.
The thought is if on February 2nd the ground hog peaks out of its borough and sees his shadow, he is frightened and runs back in and stays for another six weeks of winter. If the day is cloudy and thus no shadow, then spring will come earlier.
Two things I have never understood. One with all the TV lights covering the event would there not always be a shadow? But even more puzzling is how a ground squirrel knows the weather six weeks ahead when the professional meteorologists changing their forecast many times a week out?
Warning, before you put too much trust in what happens with the ground hog next Tuesday, the records show it misses more than the national weather service.
In answer to the question that was asked at the beginning of the column, “What can we learn from a ground hog?” It is not so much the weather as how we respond to the world around us. One should never be frightened by one’s own shadow.
There is plenty to fear in our lives. And we should take reasonable precautions to protect ourselves and those we love. Fear is much like pain. It might not always be pleasant but one needs to listen at times to its warning.
The issue with the tradition of Ground Hog Day is how we interpret the action of the ground hog. There is a disconnect between what frightens the ground hog and the actual danger it poses. In fact wasting time on foolish fears only distracts us from what we need to deal with in life.
How many times in life we retreat in fear instead of being honest with what we a facing. A noted psychologist of the twentieth century, Rollo May, said half of any cure is naming the demon. We must know the true challenge we face if we are to be successful. If we are afraid of our own presence we will not see what we need to deal with.
Taking the traditional interpretation of Ground Hog Day a step further, it is the one time in life that we like a cloudy day better than a sunny one. In dealing with the real issues one faces in the day, light is a good thing. It helps bring clarity. It helps us see more completely.
Have fun with the day but learn to respond to life in a beneficial way.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.