On Groundhogs, Candles, and Christ

Consider these headlines from across our Association from the past three consecutive months of February:

February 2021 - “Historic Winter Storm and Arctic Outbreak”

February 2022 - “Bitter cold and wintry weather pay a visit…”

February 2023 - “Roads Covered in Ice as Winter Storm Hits”

There seems to be a pattern emerging… It sounds a bit like Groundhog Day, right?   

Speaking of Groundhog Day, on February 2nd this year, as many of us were stuck at home because of icy roads, the “Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather-Prophet Extraordinary,” a.k.a. Punxsutawney Phil, reluctantly spotted his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter darkness. But don't be dismayed. The experts at NOAA peg Phil’s predictions about the weather at a sub-par rate of about 40%, which is a fantastically helpful batting average in the MLB but also a completely unhelpful average if you are trying to pack for Spring Break.   

Interestingly, as I was researching the legend and lore about Phil, I also learned a little about some of the Imbolc origins of Groundhog Day–an ancient Celtic tradition of celebrating the midpoint between the darkness of Winter and the light of Spring which calls to mind an association with the coming dawn, a season of new birth and light. 

Digging deeper, there is a Christian festival of light that is observed on February 2nd as well. Referring to the candles lit in churches on this day to commemorate the presentation of Christ to the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem, this festival is known as Candlemas. If you read the account of this event as recorded in the Gospel of Luke (see Luke 2:22-39), you will notice a “righteous and devout” prophet named Simeon, who, upon witnessing this presentation of Christ, proclaims: 

“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight

of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory

of your people Israel.”

As we all begin to emerge from this latest iteration of winter’s icy grasp, we may be tempted to let Phil’s dark prognostication cast a shadow across our hope for the coming Spring. Similarly, there is an old English poem about the Candlemas celebration which may also invoke feelings of despair and darkness:        

If Candlemas be fair and bright,

Come, Winter, have another flight;

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,

Go Winter, and come not again.

However, dear friends, take heart! Whether or not Phil sees his shadow, whether or not Candlemas “be fair and bright” or “brings clouds and rain,” and whether or not our region is slammed by yet another ice storm, the recent and secular traditions of Groundhog Day, as well as its Celtic and Christian origins, compel us to discover hope as we reflect on the deeper meanings revealed through these traditions. For school leaders, the challenging “dark winter” of this time of the school year may be felt in enrollment challenges, disconnected boards, unexpected teacher resignations, misbehaving parents, or even squabbling students who are experiencing the ill effects of too many days of indoor recess. As you navigate the winter darkness, may you find encouragement as you consider how each of these February traditions provides us with clear reminders of the eventual triumph of spring over winter, the hope of new birth after death, and the promise of victory of light over darkness through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative

decision in the low time. Never make your most important

decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient.

The storm will pass. The spring will come." Author Unknown 

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