Archive: Jan 2018

Groundhog Day

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Groundhog Day falls on February 2 in the United States, coinciding with Candlemas. It is a part of popular culture among many Americans and it centers on the idea of the groundhog coming out of its home to “predict” the weather.

What Do People Do?

Groundhog Day is a popular observance in many parts of the United States. Although some states have in some cases adopted their own groundhogs, the official groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, lives at Gobbler’s Knob near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The town has attracted thousands of visitors over the years to experience various Groundhog Day events and activities on February 2.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club plays an important role in organizing Groundhog Day in the town. Club members, news reporters, locals, and visitors meet at Gobbler’s Knob on February 2 each year to await Phil’s appearance and his weather prediction. Pennsylvania’s governor has been known to attend Groundhog Day ceremonies. Many weather researchers questioned the groundhog’s accuracy in predicting the weather, but some of the groundhog’s fans may not agree.

Public Life

Groundhog Day is an observance but it is not a public holiday in the United States. However, areas around parks and some streets may be busy or congested in towns, such as Punxsutawney, where Groundhog Day events are popular.

Roots in Nature

Thousands of years ago when animalism and nature worship were prevalent, people in the area of Europe now known as Germany believed that the badger had the power to predict the coming of spring. They watched the badger to know when to plant their crops. By the time the first German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania they probably understood that this was not true but the tradition continued.

Unfortunately, there were not many badgers in Pennsylvania so the groundhog was substituted for the badger. Tradition has it that if the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2 it will be frightened by it and will then return to its burrow, indicating that there will be 6 more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, then spring is on the way.

Punxsutawney Phil

Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day in the United States in the 1800s. The first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob was made on February 2, 1887. It is said that Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) was named after King Phillip. He was called Br’er Groundhog prior to being known as Phil. Canada also celebrates Groundhog Day.

The movie “Groundhog Day” from 1993, starring comedian Bill Murray, made Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania famous worldwide. The film’s plot added new meaning to the term “Groundhog Day” as something that repeats itself endlessly.

New Year’s Resolutions

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Today, resolving to change and improve yourself and your life is an almost unavoidable part of the transition to a new year. Though it’s a pretty well documented fact that most New Year’s resolutions fail, we keep making them—and we’re not alone. The custom of making New Year’s resolutions is most common in the West, but it happens all over the world. Take a look back at when and why the New Year’s resolution tradition got started, and how it’s changed over the course of history.

The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year—though for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted. During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be.

A similar practice occurred in ancient Rome, after the reform-minded emperor Julius Caesar tinkered with the calendar and established January 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C. Named for Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches, January had special significance for the Romans. Believing that Janus symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future, the Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good conduct for the coming year.

For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Also known as known as watch night services, they included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, and served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year. Now popular within evangelical Protestant churches, especially African-American denominations and congregations, watch night services held on New Year’s Eve are often spent praying and making resolutions for the coming year.

Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. Instead of making promises to the gods, most people make resolutions only to themselves, and focus purely on self-improvement (which may explain why such resolutions seem so hard to follow through on). According to recent research, while as many as 45 percent of Americans say they usually make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent are successful in achieving their goals. But that dismal record probably won’t stop people from making resolutions anytime soon—after all, we’ve had about 4,000 years of practice.

Cleaning Tip – Toys

Occasionally washing small plastic toys in the dishwasher is an excellent way to keep germs at bay. Use a twist tie to keep the toys in place on the upper rack or in the silverware basket. Clean marks off of plastic toys with a toothbrush, to which you have applied a solution of baking soda moistened with some dishwashing liquid, then sponge it off. Use rubbing alcohol to remove tough stains.

If a stuffed toy is marked ” all new materials,” you can safely machine-wash it. If it has long hair or other long fibers that might get caught in the agitator, put it in a mesh bag before placing it in the machine. If a stuffed toy can’t be washed, put it in a plastic bag filled with baking soda and shake thoroughly, then brush off the powder over a sink or outside.