Almost time to come out of hibernation on Groundhog Day - almost

I've always thought there's something hopeful about Groundhog Day. It is smack-dab in the middle of winter but Feb. 2 is about the time I notice that our midwinter days are getting longer as they have been doing since the first day of winter around Dec. 21.

According to, Groundhog Day is one of the cross-quarter days, halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.

The equinoxes and solstices represent the start of the seasons as measured astronomically. At the solstices, the Sun is farthest north or south in the sky for the year. And at the equinoxes, it's halfway between. The Sun rises due east and sets due west on the equinoxes across the entire globe - the only times of year that's true. Day and night are about equal length on the equinoxes.

In many societies like the ancient Celts, a solstice or equinox represented the midpoint of a season, not the start of a season. These cultures marked the changing of the seasons on cross-quarter days.

Days like Halloween or Groundhog Day were pagan holidays in Northern Europe and British Isles. Also in Eastern Asia cross-quarter days are four of the 24 Solar Terms.

Feb. 2 is not only Groundhog Day, but was known as Candlemas Day in the Catholic liturgical calendar, the Purification of the Virgin ritual in Jewish law, the Irish Celt's St. Brigid's Day, the pagan Imbolc - one of the four principle Irish festivals.

And according to our calendars, spring is six weeks after Groundhog Day. This is a lot to be put on the shoulders of a critter that is just trying to hibernate.

Our own midwinter tradition in the United States is to drag one of these groundhogs, technically "marmota monax," out of his warm, cozy den in the middle of winter to see if he notices his shadow. If the groundhog sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter is predicted. But it's coming anyway. Why bother the little guy?

In honor of Groundhog Day, I will be watching the movie, "Groundhog Day" for the umpteenth time and reliving that day in Punxsutawney, Pa., over and over with Bill Murray and doing a little hibernating of my own.

-- R-C People Editor Sharlene Irete may be reached at 782-5121, ext. 210.


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