Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Alternate Reality Groundhog Day

So Groundhog Day...that amazing celebration of rodent hibernation behavior and Bill Murray thinking he's a once again upon us.

Last time, we talked about the possible origins of Groundhog Day, and where our modern traditions for the day come from.  Most likely, Groundhog Day is a hold over from the celebration of Imbolc, the Celtic cross-quarter day festival marking the midpoint between Winter and Spring.  During this time, the Celts would watch to see if serpents or badgers began to appear above ground again...meaning that the weather was warming and spring was on the way.

But I got to thinking last night...what if in some alternate universe, some other tradition from Imbolc were emphasized in the modern era?  There were many things the Celts did to celebrate this important day in their calendar.  So here, in the tradition of numerous sci-fi franchises, I present three possible ways Groundhog Day might have evolved in alternate universes.

Alternate Reality #1: It's...SHEEP MILK DAY!!!

An important part of the festival of Imbolc was the the beginning of lambing season.  That of course, also meant the ewes would begin lactating.  With more fat, protein, calcium and sugar than cow's milk (and less cholesterol too!), sheep's milk is a good choice for cheese making.  So February 2nd in this universe is a day of eating!  Dishes featuring cheeses made from sheep's milk like feta, roquefort, pecorino romano and ricotta (oooh!  lasagna!) would be found in abundance, and in Punxsutawney, PA, the mayor would bring a ewe up into the town's square, milk her, and share the warm milk with everyone!  Err....okay, maybe I'll just stick to the lasagna.

Awassi sheep in Israel.  This breed is commonly kept for milking rather than wool.  Courtesy Wikipedia.

Alternate Reality #2: It's...BRIGITEEN!  Trick or Treat!

Another tradition among the Celts was to seek the blessings of Brighid, later Christianized as St. Brigid, by leaving food and drink for the goddess outside on the night before Imbolc, along with clothing to be blessed by her.  Similar to the Samhain tradition that let to the modern concept of Halloween, in this universe, Imbolc Eve took prominence, and on February 1st, families leave treats outside on the porch for the minions of Brighid to come and collect.  If they've got sense, they won't leave any clothing out for a "blessing."  I shudder to think what they might find in the morning.

St. Brigid in stained glass.  Courtesy Wikipedia.

Alternate Reality #3: It's...OPEN SEASON ON BIRDS!!!

Another legend surrounding Imbolc and related to weather is of the Cailleach - a Gaelic witch-woman representing the winter.  Legends say that on February 2nd, the Cailleach leaves her home to stock up on firewood for the rest of the winter.  If the day is clear, the Cailleach is awake and can gather plenty of wood for the remaining 6 weeks of winter.  If the day is foul, the Cailleach is asleep and gathers no wood, meaning that spring will soon arrive.  Since the Cailleach generally takes the form of a large bird in these tales (who carries the wood in its beak) this universe, February 2nd marks the beginning of bird-hunting season!  Hunters are encouraged to take down any bird seen carrying any sticks, thus hopefully securing an early Spring for everyone to enjoy!  And maybe a good dinner for that night as well.

The Cailleach Bheur by Altara

Meanwhile, here in this reality, February 2nd is a Saturday, and we are going to have a wonderful Groundhog Day celebration here at the museum!  The planetarium reopens after some maintenance and upgrades, and we'll be featuring Assignment: Earth, our popular program about the relationships between the Earth, Moon and Sun starring our very own groundhog!  Plus enjoy fun activities and games throughout the day, meet a real live groundhog, and witness our very own Groundhog Day prognostication featuring WAVY-TV's Jeremy Wheeler and the museum's groundhog.  It's going to be a day full of fun you won't want to miss.  Check out our website for more information.

Whatever you decide to do, Happy Groundhog Day.  Me, I think I'm going to make some lasagna.
See you in two weeks!
Carpe Noctem,

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