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Candlemas Day

February 3, 2014 | by

british winter

From Poetry of the year. Passages from the poets descriptive of the seasons. With twenty-two colored illustrations from drawings by eminent artists, ed. Joseph Cundall, 1853.

Yesterday, the Seahawks romped to a 43-8 blowout over Denver. The general consensus is that Super Bowl XLVIII was disappointing: tension-free, uncomfortably lopsided, vaguely embarrassing for Manning. The commercials were meh. Bruno Mars kind of brought it, but no one really tuned in to watch Bruno Mars.

The much-ballyhooed winter weather was anticlimactically mild, too, although one assumes the Red Hot Chili Peppers were chilly. After the drama of the polar vortices and the endless gray of this winter, it was almost a letdown when the day dawned mild.

And, of course, on Saturday, Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead in his New York apartment. The Internet erupted with grief and tributes. Everyone wanted to watch Capote and Pirate Radio and The Talented Mr. Ripley (a few bold people even queued Along Came Polly). 

We completely forgot about Groundhog Day; I did, at any rate. But it was Groundhog Day, and, weather notwithstanding, both Punxsutawney Phil and the poor man’s groundhog, Staten Island Chuck, saw their shadows. The mayor dropped Staten Island Chuck.

The origins of the groundhog custom are murky, although it arrived in America via the Pennsylvania German community and is likely rooted in European animal lore, dating back to pagan times. But it also coincides with the ancient feast of Candlemas Day, which was, according to Christian tradition, the date of the presentation of Jesus at the temple and the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. Like so many things, it may well be some sort of compromise between pagan and Christian calendars.

For many centuries, it was on Candlemas that English farmers removed cattle from the hay meadows and any fields that needed plowing or sowing. To this day, it is a Quarter Day in Scotland, on which debts are traditionally paid and law courts are in session. The following is one of several traditional rhymes associated with the second of February:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

And, of course, yesterday was relatively fair, at least in Pennsylvania (and, I guess, Staten Island). But it doesn’t seem to matter, does it? The groundhog always seems to predict more winter—Wikipedia notes that he calls it for spring only 13.7 percent of the time—which is probably safer.

On the other hand, there was Shubenacadie Sam, the Nova Scotia groundhog. Because of his advantageous time zone, he is the first groundhog of the year to make a prediction for North America. And despite everything, he foresaw an early spring.

 

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