On this day in 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring.
Historical background of Groundhog Day includes:
- Rooted in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, where clergy blessed and distributed candles for winter; the candles represented how long and could winter would be
- Germans expanded on the idea by selecting the hedgehog as a means of predicting weather
- German settlers to America in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, switching to the groundhogs as hedgehogs weren’t available
- Groundhogs do emerge from hibernation in February, but only to look for a mate before going underground again
- They come out of hibernation for good in March
In 1887 an enterprising newspaper editor declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog.
Phil and his descendants might be the most famous, but many towns across North America now have their own meteorology Marmota monax.
The 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” popularized the usage of “groundhog day” to mean something that is repeated over and over.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of scary parallels in the church world:
- Do you have ongoing traditions from the past that had original meaning but have now lost that meaning?
- Have you adapted your traditions to fit the culture of your community?
- Are your traditions based on something that no longer is relevant?
- Do you market your traditions on their own merits, or are you exploiting them?
- Are your traditions the same as a half-dozen other churches in your town?
- Do your traditions have a life of their own, long-ago outliving their original useful purpose?
While you may view this post as “anti-tradition”, neither it nor I am! I love history and tradition – I have minors in history at the graduate and post-graduate levels, study history all the time, and know that it can be a powerful teacher.
Churches should be students of their past – but also their present, in order to help write their future.
Can you as a church leader understand and appreciate the history of your church and its traditions? At the same time, are you a cultural anthropologist of your community, understanding what’s going on today? Combining the two will give you and your leadership team a solid foundation for future opportunities!