Finding God in Groundhog Day
Traditions: those steadfast ways of doing things that you can always count on. Yet traditions evolve and build on one another throughout the years.
Take, for example, Groundhog Day, which was this past Sunday, Feb. 2. Believe it or not, this rather silly ritual of using a groundhog in Pennsylvania to predict the weather actually has ties to an ancient feast day of the church, known in some corners of the world as Candlemas.
Candlemas is a tradition that developed on the Feast Day of the Presentation of Our Lord, which commemorates the day where Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated to God.
The story is told in the second chapter of Luke’s gospel, where upon entering the temple, the holy family is met by two prophets, Simeon and Anna, who recognize the divinity of Jesus and sing praises to God. Simeon calls Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” meaning Jesus will reveal God’s glory to all nations.
The early church celebrated this proclamation of Jesus as the light for all nations with light from candles. This looked like many different things over the year in different places including lighting every candle in one’s home, a procession of people carrying candles of all sorts, a blessing of all the candles to be used in worship throughout the year, and distributing candles to help people get through the remainder of the winter.
There was a Celtic festival celebrated around the same time that focused on looking for signs of spring. When the Christian Candlemas festival met this one, the traditions melded together a bit and Candlemas also developed a weather-predicting element. If the weather is nice on Candlemas, then winter will stick around. If not, spring will be here sooner.
Sound familiar? This is the same formula for Groundhog Day. If the sun is shining, the groundhog will see his shadow, and we’ll have six more weeks of winter.
It’s quite something to think that Groundhog Day relates to the proclamation of Jesus as the light of the world! But the unexpected happens all the time with God. When it’s dark and gloomy, it doesn’t seem like spring will ever come. When life is hard, or we’re deep in grief, it doesn’t feel like it’s ever going to get better. It doesn’t feel like God is anywhere to be found.
But the promise of God is that those dark moments and places is where God draws nearest. New life springs forth, always. Even when it feels impossible, God makes it happen. God is in the business of bringing forth new life out of death, of creating order in the chaos, and piercing the darkness with the light of Jesus Christ.
The traditions we know and love might evolve into ones we barely recognize, like how Candlemas became Groundhog Day, but the light of Christ remains unchanging, bringing glory to God and newness of life to all of creation.