February second is the exact halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is the winter midpoint or cross-quarter day. The duskiest, coldest season is now officially half over!
Though the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, the day with the fewest sunlit hours, is the time when the sun reaches its nadir and begins its return journey back toward us in the Northern Hemisphere, it isn't until six weeks later at Midwinter that the gradual reappearance of the light begins to be apparent. We can finally glimpse the distant light at the end of the long winter tunnel.
The days are perceptibly longer now. There is the faintest whisper of a breath of the coming of spring in the air. A subtle frisson. There begin to be signs: the first tiny buds, like goose bumps on bare skin, begin to form on naked branches. Snowdrops appear, pushing their fragile blooms up through the still frosty soil.
Hibernating animals begin a restless stir in their underground nests. They toss and turn and awaken enough to devour a midnight meal before turning over and tucking back in again for the duration.
It isn't spring yet, but there is the palpable promise. The eager anticipation of the annual resurgence of life that comes each spring. Our sense of hope is renewed.
It is customary in many places to foretell future spring weather conditions on this halfway marker of winter, which is celebrated as Imbolc in the Celtic tradition, Li Chu'un by the Chinese and Candlemas by the Christian Church. In Greece, people maintain that whatever the weather on Candlemas Day, it will continue the same for the 40 days to follow.
The Latin ditty predicts Si sol splendescat Maria purificante, major erit glacies post festum quam fuit ante. "If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight: If on Candlemas day it be shower and rain, winter is gone and will not come again."
The Midwinter Day is also a time of weather prediction in Germany, where farmers claim they "would rather see wife upon a bier, than that Candlemas Day be sunny and clear."
Midwinter is designated Badger Day in recognition of the underground movement toward life, which is manifest in this season. When the first wave of German farmers immigrated to this country, they brought Badger Day with them. Faced with a local lack of badgers, the Pennsylvania settlers were forced to substitute the American groundhog in its stead. And Groundhog Day has ever since continued to pique our popular fancy.
Each year on February second, the attention of the nation is directed to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where Groundhog Day is big business. Weather forecasters and news reporters converge to stake out the burrows of these furry hibernating creatures, in order to ascertain the true prognosis of the coming of spring. Though decidedly silly, Groundhog Day is a direct and thriving descendant of age-old Midwinter divinatory practices.
Will Phil, the mascot groundhog, see his shadow? Will Spring come on time? Tune in tonight for the eyewitness report.
OK. Now pay attention. This is how it works: if the groundhog sees his shadow, it means that there are still six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, it means that spring is only six weeks away.
There are always six more weeks of winter. Spring is always six weeks away. That is why we mark the day in the first place. To remind us that winter is half over. Despite whatever prognostication the groundhog might make, spring is never early, never late. Spring always starts exactly on time -- on the Vernal Equinox six weeks hence. But first we have to finish winter.
According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, by Groundhog Day you should still have half of your food store and half of your fuel if you are going to make it through the remainder of winter. So this is an excellent time to survey our resources and monitor our reserves. Do we have adequate stores of body, mind, heart and spirit to weather the rest of the winter?
What is your strategy for surviving the second half of the season?
Here's to a Happy Hibernation, Part II.