groundhog day

Candelmass is the all-purpose mid-winter celebration of the gap between solar expectations and climatic realities, famously emphasizing the theme of light. In Scotland, Candelmass, February 2, is a "quarter day." In England in general, Candelmass was one of the four days on which school fees were traditionally paid. The American folkloric ritual of observing the groundhog as he first emerges on February 2 addresses the chthonian aspects of agricultural vivification, an insurance policy for crop productivity. The relation of light to the underworld makes Groundhog Day a perfect bolagram subject.



The most salient feature of Groundhog day is the way it "actualizes" the ritual itself. Within the regime of time regulated by the solar cycle (hinged around the pole star), the difference between the solar and lunar year is compounded in the "lack" in the solar cycle of a quarter-day which must be made up every four years or otherwise accommodated. The congeries of themes that have accumulated around calendar themes is enormous, and Groundhog Day is set within the middle of them. Here is a brief list of the more prominent elements, garnered from James Frazer's Golden Bough and other sources:


  1. Light and shadow as main ingredients; solar and artificial light connections (candles).

  2. Elevation of the representative of the lowest point, represented by the animal, the ground-hog.

  3. Connection with the "gap" of the year.

  4. Emphasis on quarters and the number four.

  5. Leaping, skipping, and jumping at Candlemass ceremonies.

  6. The (six week?) rule of a fool-king.

  7. Relation to fertility; seasonality and synchronicity.

The dominant quality of the groundhog is "phallic," or rather "anamorphic." He appears and disappears, generates a shadow that he dissociates from himself (Narcissus) and in other ways acts in a very human manner (i.e. capable of self-deception).

In short, Groundhog Day is nothing less than an outlier of primitive traditions about the solar year, the nature of time (as containing an implicit gap or defect), and the implicit connections between disguise (anamorphosis, shadow) and natural cyclicity.

© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved