Tag Archives: Winter

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Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Just in! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. He predicted an six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, science, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will rise from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, as he has for 126 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. No shadow means an early end to winter. And if the groundhog does see his shadow? Six more long weeks of the season. Over the years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 100 times and not seen it only 17. (Records don’t exist for every year.) In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as I suspect they would do this year, as well, should Phil call for even more chilly weather.

Some have stated that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

History and science of Groundhog Day

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festivals, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

– Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

– English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies — Staten Island Chuck, anyone? — none is nearly as famous as Punxsutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Groundhog activities and crafts

It’s fun to play with shadows, in honor of Punxsutawney Phil and his. Try making hand shadow puppets, something people have been doing since 2,000 years ago in China, where it was performed by oil-lamp light. Have someone project a flashlight onto a wall or other surface. Hold your hands between the light and the wall in various shapes to create shadow puppets. Here are some classic ones to try:

Rabbit—Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk—Link your thumbs together, with your hands facing away from you. Stretch out your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider—With palms facing up, cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or dog—Place your palms together, fingers facing outward. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinkie drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel—Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinkie and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

There are also a lot of very appealing shadow and groundhog crafts for Groundhog Day, like the one below from Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten and a great round-up of others from Motherhood on a Dime.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Images: Aaron Silvers, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten, Creative Commons

Shadow puppets adapted from FED UP WITH FRENZY: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

Holiday and Everyday Cranberry Pear Jam

Cranberries and pears are both such delicious and evocative fall and winter fruits that I was thrilled to find a jam recipe that combined them as wonderfully as this one. It’s sweet, with a little bite, and with its wonderful color, makes a fabulous spread or gift at holiday time or anytime. Making jam is one of my favorite family kitchen projects. It combines science, tradition, and the supreme satisfaction of the entire canning process, which lets you transform fruit into jam, before pleasingly pouring it into glass jars. My simple and delicious recipe for cranberry pear jam requires only four ingredients. It comes from Food in Jars, which is a great source for all things canning. Make it before the cranberries disappear for the season.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Other posts by Suz you might like:

Stir up Some Triple Berry Jam

Stir up (or cook down) some Colonial Apple Butter

The Bond of Blueberry Jam, Motherlode blog

Host a Valentine Tea Party

Many children adore the ritual and whimsy of both pretend and real tea parties, and this seems at no time truer than at Valentine’s Day, when we’ve made valentines for loved ones while enjoying finger sandwiches and sipping “tea”. Teas can also add ritual and fun to winter holidays, birthdays, May Day or  Mother’s Day or a summer day. Crafts are a nice addition to tea — if not valentines, then perhaps May Day crowns, or fairy or flower crafts. Games work well for tea, too (board or pretend.) Tea parties are a great way to involve multiple families or generations or to make an everyday gathering more special.

Collect teacups, saucers, and plates in advance (the more mismatched the better!) They can often be found inexpensively at secondhand stores, flea markets, and garage sales. Disposable cups can also be found at party stores, or glue small rhinestones to plastic cups with dots of glue. (Place cups on a towel so they don’t roll, glue a few rhinestones on and let dry, then turn the cup a quarter turn and glue more rhinestones on.)

You may want to have guests bring a special teddy bear or doll or invite them to dress up for taking tea in hats and gloves. The table, too, might be set with a favorite or antique tablecloth or doilies.

Tea Sandwiches

Tea sandwiches come in an endless variety to suit many tastes.

You’ll need:

Thinly sliced white bread
Sharp knife or cookie cutters
Sandwich ingredients (see below)

Cut the crusts off the bread and cut each slice into two triangles, or cut into large shapes, such as flowers, using a cookie cutter. (If using a cookie cutter, note that some sandwiches are better assembled before cutting.)

Spread one bread slice with filling and top with the second slice of bread, or serve open-faced.

Sandwich fillings to try:

Peanut butter and jelly
Cream cheese and jelly
Cream cheese and cucumber slices
Peanut or apple butter and honey or Nutella
Tuna, egg, or chicken salad
Cheese and butter
Lunch meat and cheese or mayonnaise

Looking for more ideas?
Serve open-face sandwiches (or minibagels) by spreading them with cream cheese or other spread and decorating with sprinkles. Or Substitute animal or other crackers, or cucumber rounds, for the bread to make especially tiny sandwiches.

Scones and biscuits are also welcome at tea, as are whimsical fairy and leprechaun foods.

 

 

See: How to Make: Fun and Easy Homemade Valentines

Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Just in! Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. He predicted an early spring on Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, science, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will rise from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, as he has for 125 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. No shadow means an early end to winter. And if the groundhog does see his shadow? Six more long weeks of the season. Over the years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and not seen it only 17. (Records don’t exist for every year.) In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”.

Some have stated that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

History and science of Groundhog Day

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festivals, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

– Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

– English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies — Staten Island Chuck, anyone? — none is nearly as famous as Punxsutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Groundhog activities and crafts

It’s fun to play with shadows, in honor of Punxsutawney Phil and his. Try making hand shadow puppets, something people have been doing since 2,000 years ago in China, where it was performed by oil-lamp light. Have someone project a flashlight onto a wall or other surface. Hold your hands between the light and the wall in various shapes to create shadow puppets. Here are some classic ones to try:

Rabbit—Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk—Link your thumbs together, with your hands facing away from you. Stretch out your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider—With palms facing up, cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or dog—Place your palms together, fingers facing outward. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinkie drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel—Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinkie and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

There are also a lot of very appealing shadow and groundhog crafts for Groundhog Day, like this one and others from Motherhood on a Dime.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Images: Aaron Silvers, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten, Creative Commons

Shadow puppets adapted from FED UP WITH FRENZY: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World

Make Noisemakers to Welcome the New Year

Noise and revelry have survived from ancient times as an attempt to ring out the evil spirits of the old year and ease what many viewed as a vulnerable transition between years. Ancient Chinese people used loud firecrackers to drive away evil spirits, while medieval Germans hissed in the streets. Eighteenth-century Scots were draped in cowhides and chased by villagers who yelled, “Raise the noise louder” and beat them with sticks. I have my own childhood memories of staying up until midnight and clanging pots and pans on our porch, something I now do with my family.

You can easily make and use your own noisemakers, a project most kids enjoy, in addition to staying up late and marking the turn of the year. (If midnight is too late for little ones, celebrate the new year’s arrival in a region or country with an earlier time zone!)

Tube Kazoos

I have childhood memories of making this timeless noisemaker, along with a harmonica out of a wax-paper-covered comb, proving that things made with the simplest materials are often very enduring.

You’ll need:

  • Empty toilet paper or paper-towel rolls
  • Small squares of wax paper, approximately 4″ × 4″
  • Rubber band
  • Pencil
  • Crayons, markers, paint, fabric, tissue paper, glue, glitter, sequins, or other decorative items of your choice

Decorate the tube, as desired.

Cover one end with the wax paper square and secure with a rubber band.

Punch holes in the wax paper with a pencil.

Paper-Plate Maracas

We have fun making these at New Year’s and throughout the year. They’re great to use for  family music nights.

You’ll need:

  • 2 paper plates
  • Crayons, markers, paint, fabric, tissue or construction paper, ribbons, glue, glitter, sequins, foil, or other decorative items of your choice
  • 1/8 cup large dried beans
  • Stapler
  • Craft or popsicle stick
  • Tape

Decorate the underside of the paper plates, as desired.

Tape a craft stick to the inside rim of one plate’s undecorated side, for a handle.

If desired, glue ribbons or strips of paper or fabric to the plate’s underside, to create decorative ribbons.

Place the two plates together, decorated sides out.

Staple around the edges of the plates to secure them together, leaving an opening to drop the dried beans in.

Continue stapling to shut.

Photos: Piter Kruger; Kazoos,  Austin Kids; Maracas, Paper Craft PictureGiggleberry Creations. Both have lots of other cute ideas for paper plate crafts, paper plate fish, and more.

Looking for more New Years Noisemaker Crafts? See:

Artists Helping Kids   (various)

Make and Takes    (poppers)

Pots, pans, wooden spoons, and other kitchen items also make excellent noisemakers!

Happy New Year!

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

New Year’s Traditions Around the World and at Home

New Years Resolutions and Gratitude Lists

Honor Your Family with Fun Gratitude Crafts

Celebrate the Winter Solstice

There’s something about the solstice, the precise and dramatic moments when one season moves into another. These moments allow us to pause and reflect on the turning of the year, as well as mark the unique joy of each season in numerous small ways.

The winter solstice (December 21 this year for those in the Northern Hemisphere) provides a special opportunity to slow down during the hectic holiday season.

Marked by the longest night and shortest day of the year, winter 2013 officially begins at 11:12 a.m., Coordinated Universal Time, on Dec. 21 (6:12 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast.) At that moment, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For the many who yearn for longer days, this is the cheering moment they start coming back, little by little, as the North Pole gradually begins to tilt closer to the sun. (I truly enjoy the whole year as it occurs.) Of course, those in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating their summer solstice and their longest, sunniest day. This is a great site that explains the solstice.

In ancient Rome, the extroverted citizens celebrated the winter solstice for a full and rowdy week called Saturnalia. Though (much) milder in character, my family makes a habit of welcoming each summer and winter solstice with songs, stories, rituals and food, much the way people of many cultures have been bearing witness to the changing seasons and honoring life’s mysteries for thousands of years.

Looking for some simple ways to celebrate the winter solstice with your family? Try these:

  • Take a walk or have a family game night on the year’s longest night.
  • Celebrate the sun’s return by making or eating sun-colored foods, such as oranges and frosted yellow cupcakes.
  • Use an orange half as a candle holder by hollowing out space for the candle in the orange’s center, and enjoy the light together.
  • Place gold-covered toys or chocolate coins in bags and surprise children with them at night or during the morning after the solstice.
  • Take a walk at sunrise to greet the return of longer days.
  • Take a cue from Scandinavia, where some families place all their shoes together at the winter solstice, in the hope of living in harmony throughout the year.
  • Do a solstice spiral dance to welcome winter or summer (instructions below).
  • Summer solstice celebrants, greet the season outdoors and make a wish on the first star that appears on the year’s shortest night.

Spiral Dance

Gather in a circle and hold hands. Sing or chant simple songs to honor the earth and the changing season while moving slowly in a circle. Have a leader break one handhold and lead the group in increasingly smaller circles within the larger one to form a spiral. Some of our favorite spiral songs:

Wearing Our Long Tail Feathers

The boundaries of the earth,
The planet of our birth,
The sacred Mother Earth.
We circle around,
We circle around,
We circle around the universe,
Wearing our long tail feathers
As we fly.

Witchi Tai Tai

O witchi tai tai, witchi tai o,
O witchi tai tai, witchi tai o,
May we all be like eagles, flying so high,
Circling the universe, on wings of pure light.

Here’s some great information about cultural and religious celebrations of winter and solstice around the world. Some civilizations, like the ancient Incans and the Chinese, begin their new years at the winter solstice. (Interestingly, the ancient Mayan calendar marked the new year not at winter solstice but in May, the high point of the agricultural year.) However you choose, join in the global celebration of the solstice, the year’s longest night (or day), and perhaps the return of the light.

Photos – Burning Sun Wheel at Winter Solstice: Thomas W. Fiege/Schandolf. Oranges, Public Domain

Make This a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

For many of us, the holidays bring frenzy and stress. Budgets and available time and resources are stretched. We schedule so many activities that we become tired and unable to enjoy all of them. We spend extraordinary amounts of our time in crowded stores, parking lots and post offices. Why? Because we internalize societal messages that tell us we have to give our families a “perfect” holiday, which means taking advantage of every possible option and gift, often at the expense of true family meaning and fun.

How can we take back our holiday seasons?

Set a family intention for the holiday season

Intentions are extremely powerful. It will help you and your family if you determine and express exactly what you do want this holiday season. What is important to the family? Time spent together at home or out at parties? A family vacation? Treasured traditions (and which ones)? A shower of gifts? Discuss your intentions as a family and perhaps arrive at some new ones.

Question or limit consumerism

This act will help many families derail stress. Decide on a gift limit, say one or two per person. Offer to forgo traditional gifting with extended family members or office mates. Instead, try something fun like a “Secret Santa” activity, in which participants choose names from a hat and gift that one person a gift, instead of every person in the group. Other things you can do include supporting local small businesses and artisans, and choosing gifts that will get a great deal of use because they inspire creative play or exploration, or even gifts of time and activities.

Be a holiday tourist

Limiting consumerism doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy commercial holiday fun. Lots of towns and cities employ beautiful shop windows and other holiday and light displays. Find one near you and see how much more you and your family enjoy them when you’re not rushing by with a lengthy shopping list.

Visit your favorite holiday traditions, or create new (and inexpensive) ones

Holiday time can be extremely meaningful and memorable. Often, family memories are deepened when they attach to repeated fun rituals. These can include enjoying a holiday play, pageant, ice show or staging of a ballet such as the Nutcracker each year; attending a holiday tea; addressing cards together; making your own gift wrap; decorating your home; putting out cookies for Santa; enjoying holiday movies or books; playing old-fashioned games by firelight; playing in the snow; taking a holiday walk; or one of our frugal favorites, enjoying local holiday light and decoration displays. (These are often published in local papers.)

Gather for crafting and food

Holidays offer plenty of gathering time. Why not gather around fun, homemade activities? Make food together that is unique to the season, such as egg nog, apple butter, latkes or holiday cookies. Host a cookie exchange, to which guests each bring 4 dozen cookies and an empty container. Put all the cookies on a table and have guests walk around the table, taking one of each until the cookies are gone. (Serve guests a hearty or potluck meal before the cookie exchange, if you’d like.) Or make a gingerbread house or simple crafts like doily snowflakes. (Instructions below.)

Get outdoors

Often we get so carried away with some aspects of the holidays that we miss others. Holiday time can be a lovely time to enjoy nature. Often there are less other people on the walking trails and in the parks. Live in a snowy place? Make a Snowman Kit and keep it handy: Collect and store together coal pieces, rocks, or buttons for eyes, and woolens such as a knit cap, scarf, and mittens. Have carrots handy in the fridge. When the snow hits, take your kit outside and create your snowman, adding branches, twigs, evergreen boughs, and other items.

Celebrate the winter solstice

The winter solstice provides a special opportunity to slow down during the hectic holiday season. Take a walk or have a family game night on the year’s longest night. Celebrate the sun’s return by making or eating sun- colored foods, such as oranges and frosted yellow cupcakes. Place gold-covered toys or chocolate
coins in bags and surprise children with them at night or during the morning after the solstice. Take a walk together at sunrise to greet the return of longer days.

Say no to some activities

As you’re saying yes to some of these new, fun activities, you might find yourself needing to say no to others. Do you really have to attend every office, school and neighborhood party or event? Decide which activities truly give you pleasure and try to guiltlessly skip the ones that don’t. The same goes for holiday cooking, decorating and other activities. If something isn’t pleasurable, no matter how much it fits into your idea of a “perfect” holiday, opt to do something you enjoy instead.

Give to someone less fortunate

There are many opportunities to serve and give over the holidays. Help at a local food kitchen, or participate in a toy or book drive. Or consider gifting in a recipient’s name to a worthy non-profit or other organization. These gifts may have much greater meaning than additional trinkets or things for families that have plenty.

 

Paper or Doily Snowflakes
These snowflakes grace our windows each winter.

You’ll need:
• Doilies, or paper in circle or square shapes
• Scissors
• Ribbon, optional

Fold a doily or paper circle in half, then in half again, and then
in half again, resulting in eight wedge- shaped layers, or fold a
square piece of paper in half to form a triangle shape, then in
half again. Then fold both halves of the triangle in toward the
middle, so that there is one pointy top, with the pieces overlapping,
and two pointy ends sticking down. Trim the bottom to
cut the pointy ends off.

Cut out small shapes along the folds or ends, such as triangles,
half circles, or swirling edges.

Unfold the paper and enjoy your snowflake. You may wish to
string many snowflakes together on a piece of ribbon to create
a garland decoration.

Craft adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Sees His Shadow

Update:In the Feb. 2 early morning on Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow for the 99th time to predict 6 more weeks of winter.

Jan. 30 – Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, science, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will rise from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, as he has for 126 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. If he sees it – an early end to winter. If not – 6 more long weeks of the season. Over the years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and not seen it only 16. (Records don’t exist for every year.) The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”.

Some have stated that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

How did the groundhog tradition get started?

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festivals, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

– Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

– English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies — Staten Island Chuck, anyone? — none is nearly as famous as Punxsutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Photos: Aaron Silvers, Creative Commons

Activity: See if you see your shadow on Groundhog Day!

Read: Happy New Year! Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home.

Fun Winter Activity: Create Ice Art

If winter’s cold weather has you thinking you can’t play outside, think again. There’s simple fun to be had by creating ice sculptures, or ice art. All you need are some empty containers with large openings, rain or tap water, food coloring, and some freezing weather to bring your winter artist out of hiding — or at least outside.

Gather a variety of empty containers with large openings, such as milk cartons, juice boxes, and disposable cups and bowls. Collect rain or water in your containers and color with food coloring, if desired. Leave the containers of water outside to freeze. Carefully remove your containers to reveal the ice sculptures!

Not cold enough where you live? No problem. Have fun making ice sculptures in your freezer!

Active Kids Club in Toronto and Sanborn Western Camps in Colorado both have excellent ideas and photos to inspire your ice art.

Go Explore Nature has lots of ideas for winter backyard nature fun, no matter what the weather!

Photos: Top – Active Kids Club, Bottom – Sanborn Western Camps

 

Happy Winter Solstice 2011!

Winter Solstice is just about here, in the Northern Hemisphere — Our longest night and shortest day of the year, when Winter will officially begin at 5:30 a.m., Coordinated Universal Time, on Dec. 22 (12:30 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast, 9:30 p.m. 12/21 on the U.S. West Coast.) At that moment, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For the many who yearn for longer days, this is the cheering moment they start coming back, little by little, as the North Pole gradually begins to tilt closer to the sun. (I truly enjoy the whole year as it occurs.) Of course, those in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating their Summer Solstice and their longest, sunniest day. This is a great site that explains how the Solstice occurs.

This link illuminates cultural and religious celebrations from around the world that mark the Winter Solstice, the year’s longest night, and the return of the light. I was interested to learn that the ancient Roman 7-day festival, the Saturnalia, sometimes slipped into debauchery, but also included the postponing of war. Locally, (and currently), in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a wonderful Winter Solstice celebration in the Muir Woods that my family has attended many times. It occurs rain or shine, and will take place Wednesday, Dec. 21, at Muir Woods National Monument, from 3-8 p.m. The event, which is free with a park entrance fee, includes Winter woods-inspired crafts, such as making Solstice crowns; singing, storytelling, and a shadow puppet show; hot chocolate for purchase; and the beautiful ancient Redwood-lined trails of the park lit with luminaria, and often ringing with the voices of choral performers. Attendees should dress warmly, bring flashlights and prepare to have fun. Perhaps there’s a Solstice celebration in your area. Let us know!

Photo – Burning Sun Wheel at Winter Solstice: Thomas W. Fiege/Schandolf

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