That’s Right Nate

Thoughts from a right thinker.

How Groundhog Day Kept Christianity Alive

with 5 comments

Movies like Groundhog Day have helped to secularize Candlemas.

Movies like Groundhog Day have helped to secularize Candlemas.

Like many people this season I enjoyed the heartwarming story of how Christianity’s message was spread using the Christmas Carrol The Twelve Days of Christmas.  There are a lot of seemingly secular holidays and traditions in our society that have a Christian tradition behind them.  In the middle ages Christians throughout Europe were persecuted and in many countries the teaching of Christian doctrine was forbidden.  The Christians of the time being men and women of good faith looked for a way to pass the story of Christ’s resurrection down to their children.

The day which the Europeans called Candlemas Day was full of symbolism.  For those of you that need a refresher, on February 2nd the groundhog comes out of his burrow and looks around.  If he sees his shadow there will be 6 more weeks of winter.  If not there will be an early Spring.  This story was used to teach children of how Christ exited the tomb after 40 days.  Those 40 days are represented by the 6 weeks.  The shadow represents the shadow of sin.  Of course Spring represents the new life that Jesus calls us all to.

I suppose the obvious question is why a groundhog?  The groundhog was chosen because the European groundhog is considered a noble animal and the combination of white and gray fur can sometimes give the appearance of a robe like Jesus’s burial robes.  Also, the early Christians needed an animal that hibernated and the only two animals native to Europe that hibernate are the bear and the groundhog and you sure wouldn’t want to be waking up a bear for this.

For many centuries, European Christians used this holiday on February 2nd to keep their faith alive in the face of great persecution.  When the earliest settlers came to Pennsylvania they brought Candlemas with them.  Unfortunately, much like in our own times there was a battle over Candlemas between those for whom it was a sacred religious holiday and those who wanted to call it Groundhog Day and remove all religious significance from the day.  Sadly, Groundhog Day won that war and much of Candlemas’s religious significance was lost.   My goal is this year to remind everybody of the religious significance of Candlemas.


5 Responses

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  1. Now how cool is that!!! Thanks for sharing.


    January 9, 2009 at 9:41 pm

  2. thanks for the fascinating history of this important holiday, nate! how do you plan to celebrate candlemas day? i imagine a roast groundhog dinner with all the trimmings would be quite festive.

    still, i’m not sure the movie would have been as successful with the title “candlemas day”.

    “ned ryerson – is that you?!”


    January 9, 2009 at 10:28 pm

  3. I had not thought of it really. The traditional German Candlemas dinner includes head cheese, sweetbreads, and beets.


    January 10, 2009 at 9:24 am

  4. “head cheese, sweetbreads, and beets”?

    yum! what’s for “afters”?


    January 10, 2009 at 12:42 pm

  5. Hi, Nate, I loved the title of this post, “How Groundhog Day kept Christianity Alive”. But then you say that the movie has secularized a Christian tradition, so it actually contradicts your title (from what I understood). It doesn’t matter. When I narrated what you wrote about the bear to my husband, he laughed out loud. And he never laughs at anybody’s jokes except his! Maybe we could start a new tradition by using my hubby. If he laughs at a joke, spring will come early. If not, six more weeks of winter. What do you think?


    January 10, 2009 at 5:07 pm

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