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If Jesus Rises from His Tomb & Sees His Shadow, We Get Six More Weeks of Winter

Groundhog's Day vs. Easter: Pagan Spring Celebrations in Modern Guises


If Jesus Rises from His Tomb & Sees His Shadow, We Get Six More Weeks of Winter

If Jesus Rises from His Tomb & Sees His Shadow, We Get Six More Weeks of Winter; Groundhog's Day vs. Easter: Pagan Celebrations in Modern Guises

Photo © istockphoto/Chris Ruch; Poster © Austin Cline

There's an old joke about kids confusing the nature of Easter and Groundhog's Day, but these two holidays have far more in common than most probably realize. Easter may be Christianity's oldest holiday, but not much of the popular celebrations have anything to do with Christianity and most of the Christian aspects can be traced to more ancient pagan celebrations. Groundhog's Day, occurring a couple of months earlier, is related to some of the same pagan cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

In northern climates, Easter comes around the time when winter is disappearing and it's time to plant new crops,. This has linked Eater celebrations in northern Christian cultures with pagan rituals dealing with spring planting. We must remember, though that Easter comes from a Mediterranean culture where the vernal equinox is a time when the summer crops begin to sprout. This is why it has also always been a celebration of new life and a triumph of life over death.

Groundhog's Day has elements that also come from both northern and Mediterranean cultures, giving it a mixture that it similar to what we find in Easter. Romans celebrated around this time festivals of purification and fertility; northern pagans celebrated the day as a time when divination was easier. After Christians appropriated February 2nd, they made it a day of purification and cleansing that followed pagan traditions in Rome. Northern Christians also retained the idea that divination was easier on this day and that's the source of the belief that the groundhog can predict for us the future weather.

So both Groundhog's Day and Easter contain elements of shedding winter in anticipation of spring, warmer weather, and a rebirth of life. Both are thought to provide glimpses of the future, and especially a future of hope for life and prosperity. Both represent significant shifts in the yearly cycle, dates commemorated to remind us what we have come out of (winter, cold, sin) and what we are moving forward to (new crops, new life, Kingdom of God). They aren't the same holiday by any stretch of the imagination, of course, but I don't think that most Christians want to think of the extent to which even their most religious holidays remain deeply connected with ancient pagan celebrations.

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