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Groundhog Day’s Pagan Roots: Celebrating the Return of the Light

Happy Groundhog’s Day! 


I always thought Groundhog’s Day to be a fairly bland holiday–no presents, after all–but Groundhog’s Day has a Pagan history. You have to hand it to the Pagans–their calendar is jam packed with party days.

Called Imbolc, Oimelc (Ewe’s Milk), St. Brigit’s Day (Brighid, Brigitte, etc), Candlemas, the first day or two of February celebrate the return of light with bonfires, candle making, and illumination of every kind. It’s a celebration of renewal, regeneration, creativity, and light. Pagans think of it as the quickening when roots stir and sleeping creatures yawn. It’s really the first day of spring with the spring equinox marking the midway point in that season.

Interesting bit– The older date for Candlemas, February 14-15, is now celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day. Ancient Romans called it Lupercalia—a fertility festival. The church managed to water the middle of February down from the all out orgy it once was, but the connection to love and romance remains.

St. Brighid’s Day

St. Brighid’s Day–Groundhog’s Day– is a cross-quarter day about halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. To say Brighid is an important goddess in Gaelic mythology is to understate her by a mile. So powerful was she in the culture of Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England that she holds the seemingly divergent titles of pagan goddess and Christian saint. She is the goddess of the hearth, of childbirth, and of magic. The tradition of Groundhog’s Day—when we drag a rodent from its den and consult it on the remaining days of winter—began with Brighid and her serpent.

In Gaelic mythology, serpents represent regeneration, fertility, and the element of earth. If the worst of the winter’s weather is over, so the story goes, Brighid’s serpent emerges on Brighid’s Day from its underground lair in the sacred mound . If it doesn’t emerge or if it peeks out, hisses the snaky version of “screw this” and goes back inside, then winter is destined to hang on for another few weeks.

Because of their relation to Brighid and the ancient religion, snakes are code for the pagan culture.Try applying that metaphor to stories like Adam and Eve and St. Patrick, and see what you get.

Celtic knot imagery often depicts snakes and is all about  infinite renewal. At some point, the serpent was replaced by the groundhog as the prognosticator of prognosticators. Before GroundHog Day, Snakes predicted the end of winter.


To celebrate Groundhog’s Day old school:

  • Put a decorative broom near the front door to signify sweeping out the old to make room for the new.
  • Pig out on pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, scones.  Spiced wines and herbal teas, garlic and raisins, peppers, onions, and breads make a mid-winter meal.
  • All dairy products are appropriate for Imbolc celebrations—possibly because leaving a saucer of milk as an offering to the snake is an old tradition and because this is the lambing season. Milk would have been a welcome addition to meals when larders were depleted.
  • Make St. Brighid’s crosses out of natural material and hang above the door to ward off hunger and fire and other kinds of bad luck.

Brighid's Cross to celebrate Ground Hog's Day

No matter how you celebrate Groundhog’s Day and no matter whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, Winter’s days are numbered.


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