The Theological Significance of Ground Hog Day

It’s Ground Hog Day, the day a little animal looks out of his burrow, predicting the weather by the presence or absence of his shadow.

Where did this come from?

From the Catholic festival celebrated February 2, The Presentation of Our Lord. When Jesus was presented, Simeon exclaimed,

Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.

And so the Catholic feast became a festival of light, and the day the candles for the year were blessed (hence “Candlemas” or “la Chandeleur”). And German superstitions added the little bit about weather prognostication by rodents seeing their shadows in the midst of all that light.

There are some interesting parallels between how la Chandeleur was celebrated in Acadie with how Mardi Gras is celebrated in the area around Eunice, Louisiana:

From Chéticamp:

La Chandeleur – Candlemas: Years ago, the feast of Candlemas, on February 2, began in church with the blessing of the candles and was followed by a supper and an evening of music and dance. A few days prior to February 2, a group of people from the community would go from house to house in search of food for Candlemas. This group was led by an individual dressed up for the occasion and holding a long cane decorated with ribbons of various colours. Where food was given out, the group would dance the Escaouette as a way of thanking the householders. We called this activity ‘courir la Chandeleur’ (running the Candlemas). On the day in question, people would get together at a pre-designated location, where they would have supper and spend the evening singing and dancing. Today, all that is left is the supper and dance in a community hall.

Compare with the Courir de Mardi Gras as celebrated in Eunice, Louisiana.

Mardi Gras in rural Southwestern Louisiana draws on traditions that are centuries old. Revelers go from house to house begging to obtain the ingredients for a communal meal. They wear costumes that conceal their identity and that also parody the roles of those in authority. They escape from ordinary life partly through the alcohol many consume in their festive quest, but even more through the roles they portray. As they act out their parts in a wild, gaudy pageant, they are escaping from routine existence, freed from the restraints that confine them every other day in the year.

In all of the Mardi Gras run of today, the capitaine maintains control over the Mardi Gras, as the riders are known. He issues instructions to the riders as they assemble early in the morning and then leads them on their run. When they arrive at a farm house, he obtains permission to enter private property, after which the riders may charge toward the house, where the Mardi Gras sing, dance, and beg until the owner offers them an ingredient for a gumbo. Often, the owner will throw a live chicken into the air that the Mardi Gras will chase, like football players trying to recover a fumble.

In addition to the Mardi Gras on horseback, some ride on flatbed trailers pulled by trucks or tractors. By mid to late afternoon, the Courir returns to town and parades down the main street on the way to the location where the evening gumbo will be prepared

If you’re in SW Louisiana on February 24, check it out. I’ve always wanted to, but I’m going to miss it again this year, since I have to be in Alvarado that day.

2 thoughts on “The Theological Significance of Ground Hog Day

  1. The “Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living,” admittedly a biased pro-Catholic source but generally correct in its historical trivia, states that Groundhog Day was a German Protestant invention to cover over the Catholic traditions of Candlemas.

    My brother also joked over the phone that some old woman at Mass yesterday told him breathlessly that Groundhog Day is from the Free-Masons, but he couldn’t confirm it at the any of the regular anti-Masonic conspiracy websites. 🙂

    Finally, I wonder if Fr. Powell is enjoying the regular Groundhog Day festivities at the University of Dallas. Seems like nobody celebrates it with as much solemnity (or beer).

    • Problem with the first conjecture is that Lutherans and Anglicans both celebrate(d) Candlemas. So why invent something to cover up something that they celebrated? That’s like the silly stories about the “12 Days of Christmas” being secret code for Catholics persecuted by Protestants–most of the supposed teachings being hidden by the code are things Protestants and Catholics share.

Comments are closed.