251: Groundhog Day

No I’m not crazy, nor am I really late in posting this Ozark Groundhog Day lore. Old folks around here used to celebrate the holiday on February 14th, not the 2nd, and swore up and down that the actions of the marmot on the 14th would be the only real sign of coming winter weather.

This date difference, much like that with Old Christmas, has to do with the fact that Candlemas used to be celebrated on February 14th before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar which moved the holiday to the 2nd. Another case of the Ozark hillfolk missing the boat when it came to the widely (mostly) accepted calendar change.

Some people (mostly city folk) said that the ignorant backwoods dwellers were just confusing Groundhog and Valentine’s Day, but the hillfolk, although generally “uneducated” still knew that the two holidays existed, they just claimed they were on the same day.

Here’s what Vance Randolph has to say about the Groundhog Day in his Ozark Magic and Folklore:

Weather Signs

“The old belief regarding Groundhog Day is very widely accepted in the Ozarks. The groundhog is supposed to emerge rom his burrow on Groundhog Day, and if the sun is shining he goes back to sleep, knowing that there will be six more weeks of winter weather.”

“Uncle Jack Short, Galena, Missouri, told me in 1944 that he ever heard of February 2 being called Groundhog Day until after 1900. ‘February fourteenth is the real old-time Groundhog Day,’ he said. Mr. Short was born up on Crane Creek, not far from Galena, in 1864. His father came from Tennessee in he 1840’s.”

“In 1933 I was in Greene County, Missouri, where February 2 was clear, while February 14 was dark and cloudy. The ‘furriners’ prepared for six weeks of cold weather, but the old-timers shucked their sheepskin coats and began to spade up their garden patches. The following is clipped from the Spring- field (Missouri) Press, Feb. 16, 1933.

“‘What’s all this talk about February 2 being groundhog day?’ asked a man at the courthouse Wednesday who is old enough to know what he is talking about. ‘It was always February 14 until late years. Suppose the darned hog has caught the spirit of the times and is stepping on the gas working under high pressure and starting his year 12 days earlier than in the good old days when men arid groundhogs both took time to live in a rational manner.

“‘My father and my grandfather, and all the generations from Adam down to 20 years ago pinned their faith to February 14 St. Valentine’s day. That is the correct date, and it matters not what the younger generation may say about it. There was no shadows Tuesday and Winter is about over.’”

“Three years later the people in Greene County were still wrangling. Here is an editorial comment from the Springfield (Missouri) Leader, Feb. 4, 1936:

“Groundhog saw no shadow here and a large faction says it makes no difference whether the hog saw a shadow or not on February 2, as the correct date for such an observation is February 14. The second-of-February faction claim that those who stand by the fourteenth have mixed the date up with Valentine Day. A great many people are neutral on the subject, or pretend to be in order to avoid making enemies.”

“The last sentence of the above quotation shows how seriously the controversy is taken by some persons. Springfield is a town with a population of perhaps 60,000 souls, and many of these, including some newspapermen, are not native Ozarkers at all. Most of the weekly papers in the back-country villages do not even mention this controversy about the date. Their readers all know that Groundhog Day falls on February 14, and there is no need for any argument about it.”

Mountain Medicine

“The drugstores sell dried sassafras bark the year round, and some people buy this stuff in the winter, but the hillfolk claim that only the fresh roots have any value as medicine. Many of them say that sassafras is no good until Groundhog Day – February 14.”

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