I don't know about where you are, but the weather here has been bitter lately, and though the days are getting longer I find myself wondering when I can hope to see the gentler temperament of spring. Well, not long till we can find out, for February 2nd is the day of Candlemass, which has also become known (in the US at least) as Groundhog Day. The tradition around this is said to stem from an old Scottish rhyme, which goes:
As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
In cities around the US, this is the day that the local groundhog becomes fortune teller of the weather. When the groundhog comes out of his burrow on February 2nd, after his cosy winter's hibernation, it's said that he looks for his shadow. If he sees it then there's six more weeks of winter to come (so he heads back to bed), but if he doesn't then spring is just around the corner and he starts out to begin his year. This tradition harks back to the 1800's when it was brought to America by German immigrants who believed that the emergence of hibernating animals like badgers and hedgehogs foretold the coming of spring. The best known groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil (of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania) who rose to international fame after co-starring alongside Bill Murray in the 1993 film Groundhog Day.
Shadow or no, astronomically, spring doesn't begin until the equinox (the halfway point between the longest and shortest days of the year) around March 21st, but luckily that doesn't have to stop us enjoying some cheerful spring blossom like the tulips, irises and hyacinth in our spring range.
February 2nd is also the date of the pagan spring festival Imbolc and the French pancake day, la Chandeleur, also known as Fête de la Lumière (festival of light) — see the previous post, on Pancake Day, for more on this.