The Groundhog's Shadow

Jan 28, 2018

By Eric Sponheim, former board member

In American life, Groundhog Day ranks with Super Bowl Sunday as a midwinter right of passage.  This year, the two occasions are in close alignment. Groundhog Day falls as always on February 2, with the 2018 Super Bowl following two days later.

The premise of Groundhog Day is that if said animal emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. It’s a tradition that seems silly to modern sensibilities, especially if you’ve seen the Bill Murray movie involving the celebrity groundhog, Punxawataney Phil.

Historically, however, Groundhog Day is connected to a liturgical festival known as Candelmas, when candles were blessed for the remainder of the winter. People put lighted candles in their windows at home, marking the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Candelmas is also the day set aside to commemorate the Presentation of Our Lord in the temple. Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to Jerusalem, seeking the customary ritual cleansing (for Mary after childbirth) and blessing upon their first-born child. The sacrifice they offer is a humble one: “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” according to Luke 2.

As I reread the story in Luke, I noticed a note I’d added in the margin of the New Oxford Annotated Bible that I inherited from my father. The note referred back to the birth of Jesus earlier in Chapter 2. It read:

“I find it delightful that the angel came, not just to one shepherd, but to a group – dare we say, a congregation – of shepherds!! These first people to hear the news, heard it in community!”

The source of the note was Mary Mortenson, the director of Prison Congregations,  and the date was November 2009.

Mary’s note is as wonderfully timely as ever. This week is a marvelous time to remember the blessings of Christ that we have in community, at midwinter and all year round. Even in the groundhog's shadow, the light of Christ is shining!



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