Groundhog Day, celebrated on February 2nd, has its roots in an ancient Christian tradition known as Candlemas Day, which marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. On Candlemas Day, clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter, and the candles represented how long and cold the winter would be.
The choice of February 2nd is rooted in early Christian tradition and Jewish custom, which mandated a period of purification for a mother after giving birth, followed by the presentation of the child at the Temple. For a male child, this period was 40 days, and since Jesus’s birth is celebrated on December 25th, the 40th day thereafter is February 2nd.
The weather lore associated with Candlemas, however, has pre-Christian roots.
The tradition of observing weather patterns around the beginning of February can be traced back to pre-Christian times and is linked to ancient Celtic festivals, particularly Imbolc. Imbolc is celebrated on February 1st and marks the beginning of spring in the Celtic calendar. It was a time for weather divination, and the weather on Imbolc was thought to predict the weather for the coming spring and the remainder of winter. This period, falling halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, was a significant seasonal marker in many ancient agrarian cultures.
Candlemas and Weather Lore
When Christianity spread throughout Europe, many pagan traditions were Christianized or absorbed into Christian celebrations. Candlemas became one such feast where pre-existing weather lore was integrated into Christian practice. Sunny weather on February 2nd indicated more winter to come, similar to the Groundhog Day belief that if the groundhog sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.
This lore found expression in various regional aphorisms:
If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There’ll be two winters in the year.
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, So far will the snow swirl until May. For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day, So far will the sunshine before May.
If the sun shines on Groundhog Day; Half the fuel and half the hay.
Germanic Influence and the Emergence of the Groundhog Tradition
The specific tradition of using an animal to predict the weather on this day is more directly traceable to Germany and surrounding regions. Before the tradition was brought to North America, Germans looked to the badger as a weather prognosticator. When German settlers arrived in North America, particularly in Pennsylvania, they adapted the tradition to use the groundhog due to the absence of badgers in their new homeland.
I realize that to a lot of people, this isn’t a question. The celebration of Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper, or whatever you want to call it, is dictated by the rules of one’s church tradition or denomination. The physical and spiritual properties of the elements (bread and wine) are similarly thus defined. But for those of us who try to practice a faith defined by the Bible and specifically the New Testament and who have no higher ecclesiastical authority, such questions are not only appropriate, but necessary to ask.
Jewish Origin of the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper (I’m going to call it that, since that’s the name with which I’m most familiar), originated during Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples. The bread used at the Passover meal was unleavened bread, known as matzah in Hebrew. Leaven symbolized corruption or sin, so the absence of leaven in the bread could be seen as a symbol of purity. During the Passover Seder, there are typically three matzot, and the middle one is broken and later consumed as the afikoman. Some see a connection between this practice and what Jesus did at the Last Supper when he broke the bread and said, “This is my body.” The unleavened bread symbolizes Jesus’ sinless nature and the broken bread, his broken body.
Wine is a standard part of the Passover Seder, with four cups being consumed at specific points, each representing different aspects of the Exodus story. The cup that might be most closely associated with the Lord’s Supper is often thought to be the third cup, known as the “Cup of Redemption.” Jesus used the wine to symbolize his blood, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). This can be seen as aligning with the themes of redemption and the establishment of a new covenant.
The Lord’s Supper takes these elements from the Jewish Passover meal and imbues them with new meaning, connecting the story of the Exodus and God’s covenant with Israel to the new covenant in Christ’s blood. The bread and wine thus become symbols of Jesus’ sacrifice, his role as the sinless Messiah, and the redemption offered through his death and resurrection. It’s a powerful linkage of the Old Testament with the teachings of Christ, reflecting a continuity in God’s salvific plan.
The Christian Agape Feast
The book of Acts describes how the church quickly spread beyond the borders of Judea and into the Roman world, especially through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. By the time he writes to the church in Corinth, Christians are celebrating the Lord’s Supper as part of a communal meal as described in 1 Corinthians 11 (and perhaps mentioned in Jude 12). For these Gentiles, the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup that memorialized the Lord’s death was still part of a bigger meal, but was separate from the annual Jewish Passover. These meals appear to have have been frequent — perhaps as often as daily (Acts 2:43-47), or at least weekly (Acts 20:7).
Timing of the Agape Feast or Lord’s Supper Through History
We tend to think of Sunday as a “holiday”, like the Jewish Sabbath day, and unless we think about it, assume that first-century Christians met on Sunday morning like we do. But Sunday was a work day for Jews and Gentiles alike. If the church met “on the first day of the week”, it would have been early in the morning or late in the evening (when parishioners were likely to fall asleep and fall out the window — Acts 20:9).
In AD 112, Pliny the Younger describes Christians meeting for a communal meal before dawn, but does not specifically mention any celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Chapter 14 of the Didache (late 1st or early 2nd century AD) discusses gathering on the Lord’s Day to break bread and give thanks, but the text itself does not explicitly define whether this refers to the Lord’s Supper or a more general meal.
By the 4th century, the communal meal and Lord’s Supper celebrations have been separated, and for the most part, this practice continued to the present.
The Nature of the Elements
From about the 9th to 13th centuries, there is debate about the nature of Christ’s presence in the elements, and the doctrine of transubstantiation is formally defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
In the 16th century, Martin Luther emphasized the real presence of Christ “in, with, and under” the elements, rejecting the philosophical explanations of transubstantiation but still affirming Christ’s real presence.
Those of us outside the Catholic and Protestant traditions, meanwhile, continue to see only a symbolic presentation of Christ in the elements, rejecting any suggestion that it is necessary to re-sacrifice Jesus by breaking his body and spilling his blood.
To me this very interestingly breaks down into a question of where in church history you draw the line on the “evolution” of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Those of us who reject any form of transubstantiation still practice the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper separate from any larger meal and with a great deal of solemnity and introspection. This places us somewhere between about the 5th and 8th centuries of Christian tradition.
To be completely honest, I’d like to see a return to the local church sharing a weekly, communal meal (a good old fashioned church potluck) during which their comes a point where unleavened bread is broken and shared, followed by a glass of wine (though I personally would prefer either unfermented grape juice or wine that has been diluted with water to reduce its intoxicating effect). This part of the meal could be preceded by and concluded with a prayer before the meal continues. I believe something like that might be more consistent with early church practice, and moves the line further back toward the original practice of the church.
Feel free to comment below. I’m more interested in why you practice the Lord’s Supper the way you do than what your particular flavor of Christianity dictates that you do.
Because of the constant bullying we all face from people who claim to be “open minded” and “tolerant of differences”, we are sometimes quick to see offense where none really exists. The concern that some Christians have over the use of the abbreviation Xmas for Christmas is one such situation.
The X in Xmas is actually the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter in the Greek word Χριστος (christos), from which we get “Christ”. Its counterpart “X” has been used as an abbreviation for Christ for as many as 1000 years — maybe more. The abbreviations X, Xt, and Xr can be found in Early Modern English texts written by Christians from the 1700’s. In no case was it used to “remove Christ” from the text, but rather as a simple shorthand. It may also have been a recognition of the sacred nature of the name — in the same way that speaking the name of God was prohibited among the Jews, resulting in the unpronounceable 4-letter name (יהוה) that we sometimes see as YHWH in English. The substitution of chi for “Christ” was never meant as an insult but was used by Christians as a way of writing Jesus’ name.
Christianity is full of symbols. The cross in its various forms (the simple ✞ and many variations, including ⳩ and ⳨) is one. The dove that we use in our PocketBible icon is another. Then there’s the “fish” symbol. None of these are intended to denigrate the name of Jesus nor are they some kind of blasphemy. Instead, they are just easily recognized shorthand for the concepts they represent.
To the Christian, the X or chi in Xmas honors Jesus, while at the same time connecting us across time to our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ. It is the “secret handshake” that communicates deep spiritual truths that are evident to the believer but hidden from the world. So well hidden, in fact, that some well-meaning believers actually resist its use, arguing that it removes “Christ” from “Christmas”. But they are ignorant of the long history of Christian symbolism. “Xmas” is a Christian term, invented by Christians, with a long history of use in Christian literature, based on the ancient practice of abbreviating the title “Christ” with the Greek letter chi. It is not the invention of modern political progressives to remove Jesus from the name of the holiday that celebrates his birth.
Ironically, when a modern-day enemy of Christianity tries to remove Christ from Christmas by replacing it with an X, they are actually acknowledging him. 🙂
There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the animosity that exists in our society between Christians and non-Christians. But the use of Xmas as shorthand for Christmas is not one of them.
We occasionally receive reports from PocketBible users that a PocketBible Bible is missing a verse (or verses). These “errors” are usually discovered in a group Bible study situation. Following along as someone else reads, you realize that a verse appears to be missing in your Bible. But in this case, there is more to this than meets the eye.
What are these “missing” verses and why are they missing?
The numbering scheme for verses in the English Bible was first used in the Geneva Bible in the year 1560. This pattern was followed in subsequent English translations including the King James Version, published first in 1611. In the years since these Bibles were translated, many additional manuscripts have been found which predate those used by the translators of the Geneva and King James Bibles. Because of their age, these older manuscripts are believed by many scholars to more accurately represent the original documents. In many cases, however, they do not include all the verses that are in the more recent manuscripts.
Translations such as the New International Version, Revised Standard Version, and other newer translations take advantage of these more recently discovered manuscripts and therefore do not include all of the verses found in the older translations. Rather than reinventing a numbering scheme for the whole Bible, the translators decided to use the same verse numbers as the older Bibles but leave the missing verses blank (or move them into footnotes). The result of this is that several verses in these newer translations appear to be “missing”.
The affected verses are:
Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14
Mark 7:16; 9:44,46; 11:26; 15:28
Luke 17:36; 23:17
Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29
For the Revised Standard Version, in addition to the above list, there are other verses and points of interest:
Matthew 12:47; 21:44
The order of Exodus 22 in printed form is 1, 4, 2, 3, 5. PocketBible displays these verses in numeric order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
James 1:7,8 was combined in verse 7 leaving 8 blank. 3 John 14 was split into 14 and 15.
Another point of view
Some are quick to jump on the idea that the newer translations are removing text from God’s Word and therefore are not to be trusted. It is important to note that it could just as correctly be argued that the older translations added text to God’s Word. Where one comes down on this argument depends on the nature of one’s own research, or on which scholars one decides to trust. We’ve determined it’s best to present a variety of options to you so that you can come to your own conclusions when choosing the Bible (or Bibles) that you find to be the most beneficial to your own spiritual growth.
If you enjoy learning about the history of the Bible, consider the PocketBible book: The Origin of the Bible by Philip Comfort.
Back when I was at Parsons Technology in the late 80’s and 90’s I was attending a Baptist church. Somewhere along the way I picked up a copy of this little booklet — probably at a Jack Hyles or Curtis Hudson revival meeting. The Trail of Blood is a history of the church starting with the church in Jerusalem through the present day (well, through the early 1930’s, which is when it was written). What’s interesting about it is that it lays out ten or twelve distinctive doctrines that the author identifies as characteristic of Bible-believing Christianity and follows those doctrines — not the dominant churches of the day.
Whether you attend a Baptist church, consider yourself basically “baptistic” in doctrine, or are just interested in church history, this is an interesting book. I happened to think of it the other day, contacted the copyright owner, and discovered that it has recently passed into the public domain. So I quickly tagged it for PocketBible.
The Trail of Blood suggests that it was the Catholic church that split from the “true church” and points out that Protestant churches didn’t so much rise out of traditional Christian doctrine but rather Catholic doctrine, and that Catholics and Protestants together persecuted those who held to the doctrines that the author believes Paul and the early church would be most comfortable with.
Admittedly, this is a controversial title. (That’s why we didn’t make it free — so it wouldn’t show up automatically in everyone’s download account.) Obviously by suggesting that Catholics and Protestants are branches of the same, doctrinally flawed stock, he will offend most of Christendom. And contemporary scholars with access to more recent archaeological discoveries and historical documents would challenge his characterizations of some early groups of Christians. But the concept is an interesting one to consider and certainly worth dropping a dollar on to learn more. The historical chart it includes, showing the “trail of blood” through the centuries, is worth at least that much.
If it bothers you, skip it. But I think many of you would find it fascinating. In my case, while I no longer fellowship with a Baptist church, it was very formative of my understanding of the transmission of truth through the centuries.