Groundhog Day, a U.S. and Canadian tradition, comes every year on February 2. It has its roots in astronomy, in the sense that it’s a seasonal festival, tied to the movement of Earth around the sun. It’s the year’s 1st cross-quarter day. It is also a great excuse to go outside and enjoy some revelry during the winter months.
Groundhog Day is a secular version of Candlemas. Some countries believed that a burrowing animal, usually a hedgehog, would come out on this day to judge the quality of the weather. This tradition came with settlers to the New World. There were no hedgehogs to be found, but there were lots and lots of groundhogs. Thus Groundhogs’ Day was born.
Who is Punxsutawney Phil?
In the United States, Groundhog Day is a long standing tradition. However, the idea of looking at a burrowing animals’ reactions to the weather is an even older custom.
According to tradition if the animal sees its shadow, it is a sign there will be six more weeks of bad weather or a “second winter” and scurries back into his hole. However, if it doesn’t see his shadow, he comes out to stay. So, on a cloudy day it would not see a shadow and would thus know spring is coming.
If the groundhog sees his shadow
we will have six more weeks of winter.
Settlers in Pennsylvania were of German decent. The groundhog is abundant in these parts and the settlers decreed this creature would be the weather predictor of record. The most famous of all the groundhogs lives in Punxsutawney.
In the 1880s, a group of friends went out on Candlemas Day in search of a groundhog. This trip quickly became tradition and the local newspaper dubbed the group “The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.” In 1887, the search turned into an official event and the groundhog became known as Punxsutawney Phil. Phil makes his yearly appearance to predict the weather, which is televised and announced on the radio.
Today good ol’ Punxsutawney Phil makes his home in a climate-controlled “burrow” that is next to the Punxsutawney Library. Phil even became a movie star in 1993 when the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray opened.
Punxsutawney Phil is not the only weather predicting animal of note however there is also:
- Pothole Pete in New York City
- Birmingham Bill in Birmingham, Alabama
- Buckeye Chuck in Marion, Ohio
- General Beauregard Lee in Georgia
- Unadilla Bill in Nebraska
- French Creek Freddy in West Virginia
- Shubenacadie Sam in Canada, and
- Wiarton Willie, Canada’s albino groundhog
- There’s even Claude the Cajun Crawfish in Louisiana, if he “waves his claws toward the sun, he is signaling the cold spell will come to an end.”
Activities for Groundhog Day
- Casting Shadow: Outline your feet in a sunny area in chalk. Mark the length and movement of your shadow every hour.
- Charting and predicting the weather: Note the type of weather on the calendar for two weeks, then make a bar graph and predict the weather for the coming week.
In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl in the center of the table.
Source: Web Holidays
There is one twist on that old groundhog day legend that goes like this: “When the bear sees his shadow at Candlemas; he will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.”
In Croatia and Serbia, Orthodox Christians have a tradition that on February 2 (Candlemas) or February 15 (Sretenje, The Meeting of the Lord), the bear will awaken from hibernation, and if it sees (meets) its own shadow in this sleepy and confused state, it will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging the winter. But, if a bear does not see his shadow, he will remain outside, which means that hibernation period is over and that spring will soon start.
Thus, if it is sunny on Sretenje, it is a sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that the winter is about to end. Romania and Hungary also watch for bear shadows on February 2.
In certain areas of England there was an expression that if a dark moon came on Christmas, a fine harvest year would follow. Other areas declared that a waxing or new moon on Christmas portended a good year, but a waning moon a hard year.
From: Moon Magick
September 29th is a medieval holiday which the Church Christianized under the label of “Michaelmas,” a feast in honor of the Archangel Michael. It is thought that the Roman Catholic Church at some point considered assigning the quarter dates to the four Archangels, since they had assigned the cross quarters to the four gospel-writers.
The feast day of St. Michael, the archangel and overcomer of the Devil, is a Christian celebration. Its main importance in people’s lives was that of a seasonal signpost in the year. In the British Isles, crops were harvested and the surplus sold by late September, so this became the time when farmers would pay their yearly rents to landowners.
Everyone ate goose at Michaelmas to bring prosperity, and many farmers included “a goose fit for the lord’s dinner” with their rent payments. Great market fairs occurred just before the feast day, and the large crowds these attracted made it convenient to hold elections at this time. Michaelmas is also a “Quarter Day.”
The ancient Celtic people divided the year into four major sections, or quarters, and then divided each of these in half to make an eight-part year that reflected the natural progression of the seasons. Foods traditional for Michaelmas include new wine; goose; cakes of oats, barley, and rye; and carrots. Some groups in the United States, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch, have kept Michaelmas, or “Harvest Home,” traditions alive.
During the Middle Ages, Michaelmas was celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation, but this tradition was abolished in the 18th century. Lutheran Christians consider it a principal feast of Christ.
It was also one of the Welsh and Irish quarter days when accounts had to be settled. On manors, it was the day when a reeve was elected from the peasants. Traditional meal for the day includes goose (a “stubble-goose”, i.e. one prepared around harvest time) and a special cake called a St Michael’s bannock.
A Note About Dates:
There is evidence that Michaelmas was once celebrated later in the year, on the 10th or 11th of October, this is now referred to as ‘Old Michaelmas Day’. There may also have been a time when both dates for Michaelmas were acknowledged.
I like the legend of teenage girls collecting crab apples at the beginning of September, and arranging them in the initials of boys they fancied. If they could still discern the initials on Old Michaelmas Day, then then true love and romance would follow. The legend conjures two unrelated thoughts in my mind, firstly, would other girls mischievously re-arrange the apples to form the initials of a different boy. Secondly, what is the modern equivalent of this courtship ritual?
It’s interesting that certain customs transfer from one season to another. For example, two people snapping the the Michaelmas goose’s wishbone and thinking of a secret desire. Also, the concept of a Michaelmas Pie with ring, according to this legend, the lucky recipient will be engaged by Christmas and marry by Easter. Variations on these themes occur at Christmas and possibly at Thanksgiving.
Michaelmas Customs and Lore
According to an old legend, blackberries should not be picked after this date.
This is because, so folklore goes, Satan was banished from Heaven on this day, fell into a blackberry bush and cursed the brambles as he fell into them. In Yorkshire, it is said that the devil had spat on them. This old legend is well known in all parts of the United Kingdom, even as far north as the Orkney Islands. In Cornwall, a similar legend prevails, however, the saying goes that the devil urinated on them.
This is one Michaelmas custom that survives to this day, although sometimes it is said that you should not eat blackberries after the 29th of September. There is a very good reason for this custom, namely that by this time of year blackberries are tasteless and watery.
Other fruits, particularly nuts and rose-hips also have customs associated with Michaelmas. For example, ‘Hipping Day’ in Yorkshire, or Michaelmas pie in Ireland (Made of apples).
- Mop Fairs (Hiring Time):
Michaelmas was traditionally time when laborers and servants were hired. As the name suggests, maids would carry mops, but other trades carried the tools of their trades.
Thus the squires or the lord’s of the manor could tell what skills the prospective employees had, for example, a Shepherds his crook, and a gardener a rake.
Michaelmas marks the end of the fishing season.
The start of the curfew for winter night nights. The local church bell sounded each night from Michaelmas until lent. Curfew is derived from the French phrase ‘courve feu’, which means to cover, or to dowse a fire.
When tenants came to pay their quarter’s rent, they bring a fowl at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent, a capon at Christmas, and on Michaelmas Day, a goose.
This is traditionally a good time to plant trees as evidenced by this old saying, “A Tree planted at Michaelmas, will surely not go amiss.”
More Michaelmas Lore:
At Michaelmas time, or a little before,
Half an apple goes to the core;
At Christmas time, or a little after,
A crab in the hedge, and thanks to the rafter.
- If you eat goose on Michaelmas Day, you will not be short of money all year round.
- A Michaelmas rot comes ne’er in the pot.
- If St Michael brings many acorns, Christmas will cover the fields with snow.
- Michaelmas chickens and parsons’ daughters never come to good.
- Three things that never come to any good: Christmas pigs, Michaelmas fowls, and parsons’ daughters.
- So many days the moon is old on St Michael’s day, so many floods after.
- Harvest comes as long before Michaelmas as dog roses bloom before Midsummer.
- On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on the blackberries.
- St Michael’s rain does not stay long in the sky.
- If it does not rain on St Michael’s and Gallus [Oct 16], a dry spring is indicated for the next year.
Collected from a variety of sources
September gets its name from the Latin word septum, meaning “seven,” because it was originally the seventh month in the old calendar system. The Anglo-Saxons called it Gerst monath (Barley month), because it was their time to harvest barley to be made into their favorite drink – barley brew. They also called it Haefest monath or Harvest month.
While the early portion of this month has many summery-feeling festivals, slowly we see a change in focus toward the fall and harvest celebrations. Children return to school, outdoor activities start to wane, and the Wheel of Time begins to paint the trees with color.
September’s energy augments magic for prosperity and abundance, balanced with sensibility and a little frugality. It is especially a time for rituals that thank the goddess for all her gifts throughout the year. Beyond this, start making amulets for health so that when the cooler winds come, you’ll be magically fortified.
According to the lore, September is a great month in which to marry:
- Marry in September’s shrine, your living will be rich and fine.
- Married in September’s golden glow, Smooth and serene your life will go.
- A September bride will be discreet, affable, And much liked.
- Nature Spirits: Trooping faeries
- Herbs: Copal, Fennel, Rye, Wheat, Valerian, Skullcap
- Colors: Brown, Yellow-Green, Yellow
- Flowers: Narcissus, Lily, Aster
- Scents: Storax, Mastic, Gardenia, Bergamot
- Gem: Sapphire
- Stones: Peridot, Olivine, Chrysolite, Citrine
- Trees: Hazel, Larch, Bay
- Animals: Snake, Jackal
- Birds: Ibis, Sparrow
- Deities: Demeter, Ceres, Isis, Nephthys, Freyja, Ch’ang-O, Thoth
- Full Moon: Harvest Moon
- Autumn Equinox: Nature comes into balance
Rest after labor; Balance of Light and Dark. Organize. Clean and straighten up physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual clutter.
September Weather Lore
- Fair on September 1st, fair for the month.
- Heavy September rains bring drought.
- If on September 19th there is a storm from the south, a mild winter may be expected.
- If St. Michael’s (Sept 29) brings many acorns, Christmas will cover the fields with snow.
The Autumn Equinox was and is celebrated still by many cultures around the world. This month is the last of the reliable harvesting months in the Northern Hemisphere. Life is beginning to wind down in preparation for the dormant months that follow. The energy flows from the Autumn Equinox through Winter Solstice to the Spring Equinox are gentler, deeper, more hidden. The Dark Moon deities, who represent the Underworld, death, reincarnation, and deep spiritual mysteries, now hold sway.
The Egyptian Ceremony of Lighting the Fire was a general festival of lights for all the gods and goddesses. Lamps of all kinds were set in front of deity statues. They were also placed before the statues of ancestors.
The Egyptian deity Thoth was the Lord of Holy Words and inventor of the Four Laws of Magick. Portrayed as ibis-headed, Thoth was a Moon god. As Supreme Magus, or the Ultimate Magician, he had control over the powers and attributes of the Moon.
In the old Incan Empire, the Citua was held on the New Moon nearest the Autumn Equinox. Everyone performed a ritual cleansing, then smeared their faces with a paste of ground maize. There followed several days of feasting and dancing. This was a moon festival in honor of Mama Quilla, the Moon goddess.
Gauri, or the Fair One, is not a well known goddess of India. She is considered to be an aspect of the goddess Durga. Gauri is honored by eating sweets made from honey to bring sweetness to the soul.
The most famous holy celebration of this time of year was the annual Greek festival called the Greater Eleusinia. It honored Demeter, Kore-Persephone, and the holy child Iacchus. Unlike the Lesser Eleusinia held in the Spring, this celebration was open only to initiates who were under strict rule of silence about what occured.
The Greek goddess Themis was the Titaness daughter of Uranus and Gaea. She was the mother of Atlas and Prometheus and the mother by Zeus of the Horae and the Moerae (Furies). Since she was the deity of social order and collective consciousness, the Olympians held her in high respect. Holding a pair of scales, Themis protected the innocent and punished the guilty. She ruled Delphi after her mother Gaea, but relinquished it to Phoebe who gave it to Apollo.
The annual festival of Yue-ping was held in China from the New Moon to the Full Moon. People made round cakes and painted figures of women or a hare and trees on them. These were called Yue-ping, or “Moon cakes.” These cakes were presented to relatives and friends.
The Chinese said that the Moon Mother had twenty-eight “houses) (Hsiu) and rested each night in a different one. In each “house” she kept a warrior-hero consort who kept her company and did her bidding.
The phrase “Dog Days” refers to the hottest days of summer. The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days: the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius.
The rising of Sirius does not actually affect the weather (some of our hottest and most humid days occur after August 11), but for the ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared just before the season of the Nile’s flooding so they used the star as a “watchdog” for that event. Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time.
More about the Dog Days can be found here: Dog Days of Summer
St. Swithin was a beloved ninth-century bishop of Winchester, England, who requested that he be buried in the churchyard–some say to be close to the common people, whom he loved; some say so that he could enjoy God’s gift of rain for all eternity. When he died in 862, his request was honored.
About 100 years later, however, it was deemed unseemly that so holy a man should rest in a common grave. On July 15, the saint’s feast day, the people attempted to enshrine his remains in his church.
Legend has it, however, that St. Swithin caused torrential rains to fall for 40 days, until the intended transfer was abandoned. This is the source of a very old Scottish weather proverb regarding rain on July 15:
“St. Swithin’s Day if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain.”
Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day) is one of the important religious holidays for the Serbs. It’s annually observed on 28 June (Gregorian Calendar), or 15 June according to the Julian calendar, in use by the Serbian Orthodox Church to venerate St. Vitus. It is an important part of Serb ethnic and Serbian national identity.
Observation of this feast is connected with the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. According to the Serbian Orthodox tradition, the Serbian national identity was founded on the day, when the Ottoman Empire defeated Serbia in the Battle of Kosovo and slew prince Lazar. Ruling sultan of the Ottoman Empire was killed on the same day by Serbian knight Miloš Obilić.
Serbs consider Vidovdan a very important day, that is why many historic events in Serbia took place on June 28, for instance, signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), proclamation of Serbian constitution (1921), Slobodan Milošević’s deportation to the International Criminal Tribunal, etc.
In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name “Saint Vitus Dance” was given to the neurological disorder Sydenham’s chorea. It also led to Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general.
It is also a day for weather watching:
“If St. Vitus’ Day be rainy weather,
It will rain for 30 days together.”
About St Vitus:
There are no reliable facts about existence of Saint Vitus. According to Christian legend, Vitus was the son of Roman senator from Sicily. He converted to Christianity under influence of his mentor. Satin Vitus died as a martyr during the persecution of Christians by Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.
Vitus is considered the patron saint of actors, comedians, dancers, and epileptics, similarly to Genesius of Rome. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks and oversleeping.
Good weather in “Flaming June” is necessary if there is to be a good harvest. Country weather lore states:
- If June with bright sun is blessed, for harvest, we will thank the Goddess.
- If June be sunny, harvest comes early.
- A cold and wet June ruins the rest of the year.
- It is said that if it rains on 27 June, then it will rain for the next seven weeks.
- A wet June makes a dry September.
- A dripping June brings all things in tune.
- If swallows fly near the ground in June, it is a sign of coming rain.
- Bats flying on a June evening are a sign of hot, dry weather the next day.
- A calm June puts the farmer in tune.
- June damp and warm, does the farmer no harm.
- Rain on St Vitus’ Day (June 15), brings rain for 30 days in a row.
According to country lore, it was also claimed that summer doesn’t actually begin until the elder is in flower.
Information collected from: various sources
I found this account of Mother March in an old book about Bulgaria, published in 1877. I love the way they used to celebrate the month of March. It occurs to me that it might be fun and informative to watch the weather this month and assign certain days to certain people and see what happens.
The month of March, which falls in the Spring equinox is called by the Bulgarians, Baba Mart, Old Mother March, and is the only female month of the year, the others being considered as masculine. March in Bulgaria is like April in England, inconstant and capricious, alternating between storms and sunshine; and it is here specially dedicated to the fair sex, who during its continuance enjoy complete idleness, doing no work, and asserting a sort of temporary superiority over their husbands, which sometimes even goes to the length of administering a thrashing, without fear of reprisal.
In order not to displease Baba Mart, the women do not even smear the floors of their houses with clay (a work which is usually performed every week), wash, weave, or spin; for if they were to do so Baba Mart would give no rain during the year, and lightning would infallibly strike the house in which she had been thus insulted.
There are certain clever old women who, knowing where Baba Mart resides, pay her a visit, and from her information assign to each of the married women a day of the month on which the weather will be according to the character of the lady whose day it is; thus, if Mrs. Dimitri gets the 1st of March, it will be fine, with perhaps a warm and gentle shower or two, for she is an amiable and soft-hearted woman, a little give to shedding unnecessary tears upon any pretext. Mrs. Tanaz is a loud-voiced shrew, so her day will be made up of wind, black clouds, snow, and heavy rain. “Don’t go out shooting tomorrow, Chelibi, for it is the day of Kodja Keraz’s wife, and she has such an awful temper that the weather is sure to be horrible.”
When a woman is assigned a day for the first time, her character is judged by the state of the weather; fortunately this system is not extended to young ladies on their promotion, or many a match might be broken off by an inopportune storm in the month of March.