Recently, I have increased my knowledge of quite a few things, from way back in history up to the present time, which just goes to show that no one knows everything and there is value in questioning the origins of cultural practices, even if you’re pretty sure you know the answer – many times you will be surprised that you actually don’t know the answer at all.
I lived in New York for 66 years before moving to Mexico, where I have been living for the past 3 years. Having lived in New York, I was aware of Groundhog Day and what it means if the groundhog sees his shadow or doesn’t see it. Here in Mexico, I was introduced to the experience of Candelaria. Upon researching it, I now have a greater understanding of the origin of Groundhog Day, which has nothing to do with animals seeing their shadow. And so, I will start this post going way back to celebrations of February 2nd before animals were a part of it, and continue the thread right up to the present day Mexican celebration.
February 2nd marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The ancient Celts celebrated this time with the pagan holiday of Imbolc, heralding new beginnings with the upcoming birth of new livestock and planting of new crops.
For Christians, February 2nd is 40 days after Christmas Day. The tradition is that women were considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth, and so Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have gone to the temple on that day for Jesus to be blessed and for Mary to be purified. This date is referred to as Candlemas by Christians.
A superstition that evolved from the pagan and Christian beliefs can be summed up in an old English poem:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
There are variations of this poem in Scotland, Germany and, of course, the United States. Of course, if the day is “fair and bright” any animal will cast a shadow, foretelling winter having “another flight” and if there are “clouds and rain,” then there will be no shadow and “Winter will not come again.” In Germany, a badger was watched for a shadow and in Pennsylvania, USA, the groundhog is the animal of choice.
The Mexican version of Candlemas is Día de la Candelaria. Preparations actually begin on January 6th, Three Kings Day. On this day, people get together for parties and to eat the Rosca, a pastry which has a small figure of a baby cooked inside. Whoever get the piece of Rosca with the figure must then host a celebration on February 2nd and provide tamales for everyone.
Tamali comes from the Náhuatl word “tamalli” which means “wrapped.” Náhuatl is one of the indigenous languages of Mexico. Tamales are made with corn dough, either plain or with meat, fruit or other ingredients added, then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. I have been told by my neighbors that tamales are eaten because they are the traditional food from the time of the Aztecs. Besides eating tamales, we drink atole, which is a hot drink made from corn.
During my investigation, I also read that according to the Aztec calendar, our February 2nd is also the date that the assistants to the rain god Tláloc were honored.
If you would like to read more about Groundhog Day, Candlemas and Candelaria, here are some links to the articles I used to research their history:
Meanwhile, Buen Provecho and see you next time…..