Here's hoping you had a happy Marmot Day on Tuesday .
For those of you who are less interested in low-value trivia, a marmot is an oversized furry rodent belonging to the same family as the groundhog. In fact, according to some scientific sources, a groundhog is a marmot.
Our friends in Alaska, who have made any number of interesting choices over the past few years, have decided that marmots, not groundhogs, are to be recognized on February second. So, I guess, instead of Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, the citizens of our 49th state will now look towards a critter with a name like Nome Norm, Alakanuk Al or some-such moniker for their winter/spring prognostications. Kinda makes me want to contact my congressman to urge national holiday status for “Wiley Park Willy,” the 67-pound, 3-toed ground squirrel who lives in a hole under the Civil War statue across from my house and has successfully predicted Galva’s Fourth of July weather every year since 1954.
But I digress.
The real point of a midwinter holiday like like Groundhog Day (or, uh, Marmot Day) is hope, because, after the cold, dark months of December and January, our thoughts turn to spring and the hope that warm, sunny days will be just around the corner.
Like many secular holidays, Groundhog Day has its roots in the traditions of the Church...in this case “Candlemas,” an old, traditional name for The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and, also, a day when priests blessed candles to be used through the year. Lyrics to an old English song said:
"If Candlemas be fair and bright / Come, Winter, have another flight / If Candlemas brings clouds and rain / Go Winter, and not come again."
Our beloved groundhog/marmot predicts more winter if he sees his shadow (“fair and bright”) and the end of winter if he doesn’t (“clouds and rain”), so the connection is clear.
It’s clearer still when you consider the ramifications of Jesus’ day at the temple, when he was “officially” presented to God and the rest of the world. It is seen by many Christians as an eternal moment of hope, when the devout old priest Simeon looked upon the baby and recognized a savior who would bring new light to the world. By anticipating spring, we also anticipate the miracle of Easter and the full dawning of that light.
I know it’s a stretch to count on a rodent by any name to deliver the long-range forecast. As Bill Murray said skeptically in the movie “Groundhog Day,”
“They pull the little rat out. They talk to him. The rat talks back and then they tell us what's gonna happen.”
I know, too, that some may feel that this column is not the place for me to sermonize on matters of my own faith or to convince you to believe in what I believe.
But it is what I believe, all the same.
But no matter where or how your faith lies, there is a belief we all can share:
Spring will come, whether it’s today or six weeks from now. And with it will come another sweet season of light, warmth, renewal...and hope.
And that’s a start.