"If Candlemas be fair and bright, come winter, have another flight. If Candlemas bring clouds and rain, go winter, and come not again." - English folk song
If a day to predict the arrival of spring weather sounds familiar, it probably calls to mind Groundhog Day. However, for centuries, February 2nd was celebrated as a Christian Feast Day known as Candlemas. The day also bore significance outside of Christianity, marking the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was celebrated as an ancient Roman festival of light.
The name "Candlemas" refers to the traditional processions and blessing of candles that came to characterize the feast day. It also is called the Feast of the Presentation, because it honors the day that Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus at the Temple according to Mosaic law.
Candlemas Day was always celebrated on February 2, exactly 40 days after Christmas on December 25th. Mosaic law stated that 40 days was the period of purification time after the birth of a child.
Candlemas also presented an opportunity to predict weather. According to the New England Historical Society, New Englanders who once lived in old houses looked at how far the sun would shine in through cracks in the structure to determine how far the snow would continue to blow in through to the month of May.
Like many religious celebrations, Candlemas has a secular alternative in Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day was first recognized in the United States during the late 1800s and was popularized in Pennsylvania by German settlers who had their own Candlemas Day rhymes related to the weather. The Germans connected weather prognostication to the local hedgehog. When German immigrants arrived in America, there were no hedgehogs, so they used the groundhog, the closest representative animal they could find. The tradition grew so popular it was eventually commercialized. Thousands began to flock to Punxsutawney, PA, to watch Punxsutawney Phil make his prediction.
Today Groundhog Day is anticipated each year as millions of people eagerly await to see if winter will last six more weeks or if spring warmth will arrive sooner rather than later.