How Candlemas and Imbolic became Punxsutawney Phil’s Day


Candlemas and Imbolic were days to celebrate the coming planting season. Image: Flickr / TinyTall / CC-BY-ND

Feb. 2 is a day for celebration around the world, for a wide variety of reasons. In some traditions, it is Candlemas or Imbolic – the midway point between winter solstice and vernal equinox. For others, Punxsutawney Phil’s 2011 appearance has marked an early spring on its way.

History of Candlemas

In the “wheel of the year,” the division of the year according to the seasons, Feb. 2 is a “cross-quarter” day; it’s halfway between equinox and solstice. In agrarian society, this was the day to start preparing the soil for growing grain. Much of the plowing work was often done in the dark portion of the day, requiring candles. This “candle mass” was a symbol of renewal, purification and the dawn of the year.

Candlemas around the world

In some European countries, Candlemas is also known as “Imbolic.” The word comes from “Ol-melc,” meaning ewe’s milk, because the sheep started giving milk again after winter. A goddess statue was often washed and carried through the fields in order to celebrate the coming planting and harvest. Jewish and Christian traditions also recognize the day of celebration. St. Brigid is the Christian patron saint of grain, and her day is often celebrated by planting seeds and baking bread. Candlemas / Imbolic is also the day 40 days after the day the birth of Jesus is celebrated, making it the date that the Jewish Mary would have purified herself. In short, it is a day of purification, planting and celebrating of the coming growing season.

How Candlemas became Groundhog Day

Imbolic or Candlemas was often the time of the year that humans started leaving the house and working out in the fields, and animals did the same. German settlers in the 18th century who celebrated Candlemas brought with them the tradition that if a hedgehog saw its shadow on Candlemas, there would be six more weeks of winter. Officially, the first day Punxsutawney Phil was forced out of his hole to predict the weather was Feb. 2, 1887. Punxsutawney Phil is right about 39 percent of the time. No matter what tradition you celebrate — Candlemas’s plowing, Imbolic’s purification, St. Brigid’s Day, Mary’s purification or watching Punxsutawney Phil come out of his hole — Feb. 2 is a day to appreciate the returning of light, warmth and the coming spring season.


School of the Seasons

Other recent posts by bryanh