How Groundhog Day originated as an ancient astronomy holiday

The Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania has predicted the arrival of spring every February 2 since 1887—but the origins of Groundhog Day date back long before that. explains that February 2nd is actually a “quarter day”—a holiday noted by ancient cultures to mark the midpoint between the winter solstice in December and the vernal equinox in March.

The solstices, equinoxes, and cross days were special dates determined by the sun’s shifting movement across our skies, thus dividing the year into seasons and indicating the right time for activities such as planting or harvesting crops.

Groundhog Day is the first of four quarter days each year. Its first iteration as a holiday was Imbolc, an ancient Celtic and contemporary pagan festival that welcomes spring and honors the goddess Brigid (also known as Saint Brigid, whose Christian feast day is February 1st).

In some Christian traditions, February 2 is celebrated as the Feast of Candlemas, the conclusion of the Christmas and Epiphany season. It is said that the tradition of using the shadow of an animal to predict the coming of spring may have originated with the superstition that the weather on candles could determine how long winter would last.

Other quarter days of the year are May 1, known as Labor Day or Beltane; August 1, known as Lammas; And October 31st: Samhain or Halloween.


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