Groundhog’s Day Maine-style

groundhog's day

Otter Creek bonfire

Maine does not have a famous resident rodent to predict winter’s length, but February 2 was the day to see what Mother Nature has in store long before Punxsutawney Phil was a gleam in his mom and dad’s eye.

Whether or not Phil sees his shadow on February 2 is believed to be an indicator of how much longer winter will last. If his shadow is seen, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, spring is on its way.

This tradition is built on customs from other cultures and other continents and I celebrate this day by going back to its roots, which are rich and colorful. They also feature blazing bonfires, a warm way to celebrate the dead of winter when snow blankets the Maine landscape. And who can’t like a tradition like this: if you can flip a crêpe in a pan, while holding a coin in your other hand, you and your family will not have to worry about financial problems.

February second is a quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox. It is called the Feast of flames, Fete de chandleur, Imbolc, St. Brigid’s day, Candelaria, Festival of lights, Feast of Purification, and, my favorite, Candlemas. Holidays blur. Scientists weigh in, and explain the tilt of the earth’s axis and that Candlemas is a shift in the speed with which our days get longer. Pagan holidays become Christian days of celebration, and Christian celebrations become Hallmark events. I have yet to see a Candlemas card at the local market and that just adds to its appeal.

I am pleased but do not understand why this holiday not become mainstream. It has blazing bonfires, a bit of fortune telling, pancakes, meatballs and other yummy associated round foods to symbolize the return of the sun. There is a promise of purification for the coming year, and no pressure to give gifts, or candy and love.

In my world, this beats Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. Pagans can burn candles, Christians can bake pancakes, and everyone else can eat round food, watch a ground hog come out of his lair, or burn wreathes.


Vodka infused with lemon, symbolizing sun, and cranberries and peppercorns. Round food such as pancakes, meatballs and deviled eggs are also a Candlemas tradition.

I love any excuse for a bonfire, and have them even with no excuse. But Candlemas is the day, according to tradition, that you burn your old Christmas greens. This is both pagan and Christian, and CDC would approve. Those greens were frozen, but as thaw approaches they may become homes for rodents, and we are not talking Punxsutawney Phil. Burn them before they fester. Gather with friends and neighbors, turn your inner eye to Spring, share round food and flame, and share joy in the lengthening days. In Maine we don’t have that groundhog, but we sure know how to talk about weather and send things up in flame.

Call it Ground Hog’s Day if you must, but toss an old wreath on the fire, and whatever you do, please do not let Hallmark know.

Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.