Tag Archives: Winter

Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring

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, 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 today, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil rose from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, and signaled to his handlers that he saw no shadow today and accordingly foretold an early end to winter. Over the 125 years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and not seen it only 16, counting today. (Records don’t exist for every year.) The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as they no doubt would have today, when a smaller than usual crowd stood in the freezing rain to watch the ceremony.

The same article also notes 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 festival, 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, none is nearly as famous as Punsxutawney’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

You might also enjoy: Happy New Year! Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home.

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Downplay Gift-Giving and Bring up Ritual, Meaning and Fun

I am thrilled to have Amy at Frugal Mama here today with a guest post. I always get tons of practical and inspirational tips from her lovely blog and am honored that she wanted to write something for Slow Family:

“I think the best way to de-commercialize Christmas and other holidays with kids is to have lots of non-gifting traditions,” says Nancy Shohet West, Boston-area essayist, friend and author of the newly-released The Mother-Son Running Streak Club, a memoir about bonding with her son by running a mile with him every day for a year.

I like the way Nancy thinks about giving presents:  as just one of many holiday traditions.  (Clearly dedicated to routine, given she is now on day 1,215 of her daily running streak, I consulted Nancy when I took on writing this article for Suz and Slow Family Online.)

It’s Not that Gifts are Bad…

I’m not saying we should completely give up presents.  But too many can empty our savings, clutter our homes, and pile landfills with more junk. I knew things had gotten excessive in our family when we had to take a lunch break from Christmas present-unwrapping.  Now we have a one-gift-per-person rule.

This year we plan to revive the stockings, but instead of tiny wrapped do-dads, we’ll fill them with exchanged notes for everyone that begin with phrases like “I love how you…” and “I remember when you…”

But I still sometimes worry that fewer presents will be disappointing.

Make Those Traditions Constant and Pleasing

Holiday rituals — as keepers of our values and pleasures — have the power to replace the joy of giving and receiving gifts. As Nancy describes in her blog post A Month of Holiday Festivities, special activities fill all of December:

  • the town tree-lighting
  • a school holiday concert
  • a cookie exchange
  • buying a Christmas tree
  • decorating the house
  • throwing a party
  • making candy (truffles, peanut brittle, white-chocolate candy cane bark, toffee, and peanut-butter buckeyes)
  • a church pageant, evergreens sale, and children’s service
  • an annual holiday photo shoot and
  • composing the family’s customary 12-stanza poem

Breaking with Tradition:  Does This Happen to You Too?

Not everyone is as naturally inclined toward ritual as Nancy, however, and some of us face significant obstacles.

Since having our first daughter who is now eight, we have lived in five different places. (My husband’s medical training keeps us moving.)

Plus, we celebrate Christmas in different places each year:  at my parents’ Ohio farm, in my husband’s native Milan, or wherever we are living at the time. I’m sure people with blended families have an even more complicated geographical itinerary.

Traditions change even at my parents’ country house, which has been in the family since 1868.  Some of my favorite memories used to be singing carols around the fire on Christmas Eve while my uncle played guitar, eating tins of caramel clusters that family friends would send us every year, and taking a tractor ride up to the woods where we’d cut down a Christmas tree, roast hot dogs and make s’mores.

But my parents don’t own that little piece of woods anymore, my uncle doesn’t come these days (he has grandchildren of his own), and those family friends sold their popcorn company.

Then there’s the issue that I’m sure many mothers of young children face:  even if it’s possible to continue the same childhood traditions, do you want to?  Or do you adopt new ones?  If so, which ones?

Finally, piling on more have-to’s onto our loaded holiday plates can risk overwhelming us, instead of delighting us.  (If you have the feeling you need to pare down, Nancy recommends asking your children which traditions mean the most to them.)

So, creating a spectrum of rituals that your family looks forward to every year is not simple, but I think it’s worth working towards.  Especially for the power of tradition to take the pressure off material things.

Holiday Rituals that Captivate

Here are some activity ideas, besides the ones already mentioned, that could populate your holidays.  Presents or no presents, your family will remember this time as one of warmth and magic.

  • Make a gingerbread house (Suz has great suggestions for both hand-made houses and kits, as well as workshops and classes)
  • Attend religious events, such as midnight mass or creche scenes
  • Drive around festive neighborhoods at night or go to a festival of lights (zoos often put these on)
  • Light candles or make a cupcake Menorah
  • Give away toys to the hospital, deliver meals to shut-ins, volunteer at at shelter, or drop off cans at a food bank
  • Read aloud together Twas the Night Before Christmas in holiday pajamas
  • Or read books about the history of Santa Claus and how Christmas Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice is celebrated around the world
  • Make hand-crafted gifts and cards
  • Go sledding, skiiing, tubing, or ice-skating
  • Eat food you only make at this time of year, such as eggnog, roasted chestnuts, rugelach, mulled cider, cut-out sugar cookies, mincemeat, kugel, gingersnaps, peppermint bark, or potato latkes
  • See the Nutcracker, or stay home and play board games
  • Go to the botanical garden for a toy train exhibit, or downtown for a horse and buggy ride
  • Set cookies out for Santa, or deliver plates of goodies to neighbors
  • Every Friday night, watch a classic holiday movie like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or How The Grinch Stole Christmas
  • Invite an international student over for a holiday meal
  • Take a train ride to a festive old-fashioned town
  • Send care packages to friends or family who need a boost
  • Make snowflakes (create your own or try these beautiful snowflake patterns) and use them as decorations, gifts or ornaments
  • Don’t celebrate Christmas?  Make a tradition of going out for Chinese food and the movies on Christmas day.

Boost Your Chances of Success

Don’t worry if you miss one year of a time-honored ritual (or one you wanted to become time-honored).  Nancy was torn about missing her favorite holiday concert last year, but it made her more appreciative when she was able to go again this time.

I think the rituals we are most likely to stick with are the ones that we have strong beliefs about (like fostering a love of nature) or that we get great pleasure from (cookies we think are delicious, not just “what grandma made”).

If some traditions involve more values than pleasure (like visiting Uncle Eggbert for a piece of fruitcake); or the pleasure involves pain (like stringing lights over that stickery bush), follow them with something that’s pure enjoyment:  staying up late watching The Sound of Music, or eating fondue by a blazing fire.
Remember the procrastination-prone thank you notes?  Nancy creates a ritual out of that too, making it fun by taking her kids to a local coffee house, where they get to drink hot chocolate with whipped cream while writing to grandma.


What holiday rituals does your family look forward to year after year?

Amy Suardi loves finding the silver lining to living on less.  Subscribe to her blog Frugal Mama to get free bi-weekly ideas on saving money and making life better.

Stories and photos by Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

Groundhog Day: Punxatawney Phil says six more weeks of winter

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 folk lore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, 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 Ground-Hog Day!

In an early morning ceremony today, groundhog Punxatawney Phil rose from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, and signaled to his handlers that the shadow he saw foretold six more weeks of winter. According to this excellent Groundhog Day almanac, Phil sees his shadow 6-7 times more than he doesn’t. The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd booed the prospect of a continuing winter.

According to the Groundhog Day site and others, 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 festival, 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. (This has always been counter-intuitive to me, but I am not agrarian nor Medieval Christian, nor even from a wintry climate.) The shadow of the sun on February 2nd? Six more weeks of winter.

** Breaking news. This site explains 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.

I found English and Scottish sayings, to this effect:

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

Punxatawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies, none is nearly as famous as Punxataney’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 Punxatawney? 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

Marin County Coho Salmon have Spawned Again

I just got wind of the late winter return of several Coho salmon to their habitat in Marin County’s Lagunitas watershed. This is particularly wonderful news because this had been a year of especially low sightings of this beautiful, endangered salmon.

This weekend is the last one of the season in which to take a Creekwalk to see the salmon, led by a trained naturalist. My family and I have done this 2-hour walk and it is terrific. You walk beautiful streams and learn a great deal about salmon, their habits and habitat.

There are two tours daily, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Saturday & Sunday, January 30 and 31.

Creekwalks begin from the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, 6350 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. There is a small suggested donation. Plenty more information is available on the SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Waterwork Network) Creekwalk page.

Even with a low count, the salmon season has had its share of excitement. SPAWN has a great naturalist blog, which goes into vivid detail about salmon sightings and other activities in the creeks and on the trails.

This is a great explanation from Alaska fisherman Mark Glassmaker about how salmon spawn. U.S. Fish & Wildlife offers a no-frills page that has a lot of good information about salmon life cycle and spawning habits, as well as some information on various species and their rates of extinction.

Whether or not you take advantage of a Creekwalk this weekend, you can certainly celebrate the return of the Coho and what it says about the health and renewal of our ecosystem.

Photos: Public Domain, Susan Sachs Lipman


Winter Inspiration

Solitary Crow ...
Companioning
My progress
Over snowy fields
-- Senna
To celebrate New Year's
We feast
Newly-opened eyes on
Snowy Fujiama
-- Sokan

Photos from the season of going inward — when not playing outside. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

More are available on the Slow Family Online Facebook Page.

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House

I came upon this whimsical house, nestled in the forested Cascade Canyon section of Mill Valley, right behind the library. It’s so sweet and imaginative, and captures the playful aspect of the season. Plus, its setting couldn’t be more perfect.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Great Marin Holiday Light Displays, Part 2

Holiday light displays seem contagious among neighborhoods — I truly think this occurs more from the spread of cheer than a ruthless electrical competition. Really, who can resist a bit of joy when encountering twinkling lights, moving characters, and various expressions of cheer and calm? Marinwood, in Marin County, CA, is one such decorated neighborhood and has apparently been for more than a generation. We drove around there last week, taking in all the fun lights and decorations gracing the various homes. We visited our old favorites, which, as always, stood out.

The Lights of the Valley web site has directions and hours for these houses, plus tons of photos and directions for houses all over Northern California. Do yourself a favor and visit.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fantastic Rombeiro House in Novato, which you can actually go in!

Mize’s Mickey Mouse House, 417 Blackstone Drive, Marinwood

This super-fun house has been going for 33 years. In addition to all the lights and characters decorating the outside, a two-car garage is windowed off and filled to the brim with all manner of Disney toys and characters, in Christmas dress and settings. Particularly prominent is Mickey Mouse, down to the house’s mouse-ear-shaped shrubbery. It is all quite a delight, a fantasy toyland. Smiling visitors of all ages just try to take it all in.

The Nisja Bear House, 383 Quietwood Drive, Marinwood

This delightful house also features diorama displays, but its real crown is the elaborate model railroad that runs through the front yard. Whimsical pieces seem to be added on every year. This year, we had the pleasure of talking to Roy Nisja, who explained how he started decorating the house and building the railroad 29 years ago, when his son was small. His son and family live nearby, but they all continue to build the train each year on Quietwood.

Nisja showed us the camera he rigged so that when he does take breaks and go back inside the house he can still be certain both Eastbound and Westbound trains are running. Chuckling, he pointed out the new lighted landing strip he added on his roof for Santa. People, aged from children to seniors, in Santa hats and warm coats, came up his walk to marvel at the trains, bears, and other snow creatures and characters and wonder which had been added this year.

The Statham Christmas House, 12 Adobestone Court, Marinwood

Luckily, we did talk to Roy Nisja, because he told us about a traditional, wonderful decorated house that we didn’t know about and that had been resurrected after 12 dark years. The Statham House was a 40-year Marinwood tradition until Charles “Dooley” Statham decided to call it quits for health reasons year ago. Sadly, he died this fall, and his family decided to resurrect the house one more time in his honor. It’s an amazing sight to come upon, walking up the hill from Blackstone. (The Court, a little cul-de-sac, is blocked to cars.)

It’s completely magical, with large wooden cut-outs and wonderful lights. We got there close to 11 p.m. (!) Crowds had still been milling about the other houses, but lights were beginning to rather dramatically click off and dim. We did get to see the house in its glory, including some lighted displays of vintage toys in large windows, and hope to again before it’s gone for good in a few days.

The Marin Mommies web site has directions and hours, as well as some more nice material about Statham and the house.

Still to come: A sweet “gingerbread” house in Mill Valley.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman