“More than any other holiday, Groundhog Day is the "looking-ahead" holiday, a holiday of transition.
“We're not so much celebrating the day at hand, February 2, as we are a day that is on our horizon, the spring equinox. The spring equinox is simply being celebrated ahead of time, as Groundhog Day, on February 2. Asking us to bottle up our hopes until three weeks in March have passed would be unreasonable, don't you think?”
“…Let's explore the origin of Groundhog Day by taking a look at Imbolc, Saint Brigid's Day and Candlemas Day.
“In its earliest incarnation, Groundhog Day was Imbolc, a pagan celebration associated with fertility and weather divination.
“The word, Imbolc is Gaelic, the language of the Celts. There is a strong association between Imbolc and Brigid, a Celtic fertility goddess. When the pagan holidays were transformed into Catholic equivalents, two new holidays emerged from Imbolc. One, Saint Brigid's Day (a.k.a. Saint Bridget's Day), was celebrated on February 1. Saint Brigid's Day honored an Irish saint, named after the Celtic goddess, who was a contemporary of Saint Patrick's.
“The second holiday deriving from Imbolc was Candlemas Day and was celebrated on February 2 (Groundhog Day). Candlemas was the feast of Mary's purification and was marked by a candle procession.
“But how did a groundhog become the symbol for a holiday that was marked by a candle procession?
“Well, the Romans, for instance, had celebrated a rough equivalent to our Groundhog Day in early February -- only a hedgehog was in charge of the weather divination, not a groundhog. And such beliefs survived the Christianization of Europe (going "underground," if you will), attaching themselves to Candlemas Day as folklore. European settlers in North America kept the pagan tradition alive, but substituted the native groundhog for the European hedgehog. Clearly, Imbolc and the older traditions have won out: today in North America, almost everyone in the general public has heard of "Groundhog Day," while mention of "Candlemas Day" would generally draw expressions of puzzlement!
“Most people have now distanced themselves from fertility rites, purification rituals and weather divination (well, except for meteorologists, perhaps!). Nonetheless, on some level, don't we still intuitively associate fertility and purification with spring? Nor can we help but spend our winters speculating on spring's arrival.”
“If hope had a scent, it would be the smell in the air on a warm February day. “
this post was excerpted from an article by David Beaulieu on Groundhog Day on About.com, here.