Groundhog Day was not always some obscure, minor holiday until resurrected by the film that starred Bill Murray. Groundhog Day and its Old World parents Imbolc, Candlemas and St. Brigid's Day traditionally fell around February 2.
Some sources state that this weather-foretelling day had its roots in the confusion created by the abrupt transition from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in medieval times. Under the Julian system, the Spring Equinox fell on March 16, exactly six weeks after Feb.2. Losing a week and a half when everyone was forced to change to the Gregorian system thoroughly confused everyone who depended on farming for a living, which was just about everyone.
However, the Romans had a similar day in early February in which a hedgehog performed the forecasting duties. The hedgehog is the European weather forecaster, while in North America, the groundhog has been appointed to the job.
But why is weather forecasting given to any particular animal, and why does this day have any special significance?
The old traditional nature calendar that dates back to pagan times is divided into four by the equinoxes and solstices. It is divided again at each halfway point. Imbolc, pronounced im-ilk, is halfway between the Winter Solstice (Yule) and the Spring (Vernal) Equinox. And likewise the other halfway points are marked by the other pagan holidays, such as Beltane (May 1) and Samhain (Oct. 31 or Nov. 1).
Imbolc, as hinted by its pronunciation, is when the sheep and many other livestock are in milk. The word traces to the Celtic for in the belly, and to Oimele -- or ewe's milk. It is also a Celtic term for spring. It is a time of year when the ewes are about to give birth, and the earth itself is waking up from its long winter sleep.
Imbolc traditions include divination and especially weather prediction. Other traditions on this day include hanging masks and puppets from trees to wake the Corn Mother. Incidentally some megalithic mounds have inner passages that are lit by the rising sun of Imbolc, just as Newgrange and other mounds have passages lit by a solstice or equinox.
People watch to see if snakes, badgers and hedgehogs emerge from their dens on this day. A proverb from the Scottish says that the serpent will come from the hole on the brown day of Bride (Brigid), tho there be three feet of snow.
Another Scottish poem states:
As the light grows longer, The cold grows stronger.
If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas be cloud and snow, Winter will be gone and not come again.
A farmer should on Candlemas day, Have half his corn and half his hay.
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop, You can be sure of a good pea crop.
The day is sacred to St. Brigid, patron saint of healing, poetry and smithcraft. Brigid was the daughter of a Druid, Dugall the brown, and was baptized by St. Patrick. She is also said to have played midwife to the Virgin Mary. Traditionally one prays and lights candles to Brigid on her day. However, it is bad luck to do any spinning. But do hang a bit of red ribbon, or three ears of corn or wheat tied with a red ribbon, on your doorstep or over your front door.
In southern France, Candlemas is marked by a procession as the statue of Mary is led through town. It is also traditional to bake boat-shaped cookies called navettes, ovals about five inches long with a line down the length of them. The shape recalls the the Vesica Piscis.
The beginning of February is traditionally a time to emerge from one's own winter cocoon and check for signs of spring. Are the hibernating animals emerging from their dens? Are groundhogs or hedgehogs, snakes or bears, storks or robins becoming active again? You are halfway to real spring at least!
How to Make a St. Brigid's Cross at http://minnieapolis.newsvine.com/_news/2009/01/24/2350913-how-to-make-a-traditional-st-brigids-cross?last=1232846857&threadId=480406&commentId=5110300#c5110300