So, the nasty little rat saw it’s shadow, meaning six more weeks of “wintery mix” are in our future. Because when are groundhogs ever wrong?
But how did a groundhog get tied up with weather predictions and why on February 2nd? Well, let me put on my USPS jacket and Cliff Clavin mask and do some hogsplainin’.
The midpoints between the four seasonal equinoxes/solstices were important celebrations back in the pre-Christian day. What we call Halloween is the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice; what we call May Day is midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Likewise, our Groundhog Day is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Imbolic was the pre-Christian Celtic name for the festival between winter and spring and marked lambing season. Imbolc was also traditionally a time of weather divination, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens is probably the basis of our Groundhog Day. A Scottish Gaelic proverb about the day is:
“The serpent will come from the hole On the brown Day of Bríde, Though there should be three feet of snow On the flat surface of the ground.”
So, when Imbolic was supplanted by Candelmas Day (the presentation of the child Jesus in the temple), the older beliefs remained attached to the day, even though they no longer made sense:
“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There’ll be two winters in the year. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.”
Looks like 2015 will be a two-winter year. Stupid groundhog.
Today is the winter solstice here in Freedom’s Land. On the east cost, where I am, that occurs at 6:03 this evening a little while after the Lions beat the Bears. [UPDATE: 20-14 Lions!]
That means that today is the shortest day of the year and technically the days should be getting longer starting tomorrow. Yay! But don’t pull out that seed catalog quite yet, it’s still going to look pretty wintery for a while longer.
Winter Solstice occurs when the sun’s daily maximum height in the sky is at its lowest, and the North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun. This results in the least number of daylight hours and the longest night of the year.
The length of a solar day varies because the axis of the Earth’s rotation is tilted – 23.5 degrees from vertical – and because its speed fluctuates as it orbits the sun, accelerating when it is closer to the star’s gravitational pull and decelerating when further away.
It takes a while for the clock and the solar days to align: evenings draw in towards their earliest sunset a couple of weeks before the shortest day, and mornings continue to get darker until a couple of weeks after.
Back in the day, Winter Solstice was called “Yule” and northern Europeans used to burn a huge Yule log to keep away the night (the original fire pit), and to celebrate the coming longer days by eating while the log was burning. That’s why Yule logs are huge – so they would burn as long as 12 days (12 days of Christmas), in order that the celebratory eating would last as long as possible. The wisdom of the ancients runs deep.
[Originally posted 9/3/2013 but destroyed by my webhost]
So I’m driving to work this morning from Rehoboth Beach and my radio is telling me things. Did you know that the nursery rhyme “Hey diddle diddle…” refers to the spring constellations? Of course you did! But I didn’t. Turns out that this, which I always thought was just nonsense:
Hey, diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed to see such sport.
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
is a specific reference to the stars overhead in April and May, and is supposed to indicate planting time in the spring, or something. The cow is a reference to the constellation Taurus, and the New Moon of May is said to be in the sign of Taurus. So the cow jumps over the Moon. The Cat is a reference to Leo the Lion, which is chasing the little dog, Canis Minor (the “smaller dog” constellation), to the west and over the horizon. The fiddle is a reference to the lyre, or stringed instrument, which is overhead as the constellation Lyra, containing the bright star Vega. The dish and the spoon are the Milky Way and the Big Dipper. In May, Cygnus just starts to rise up in the northeast. Cygnus appears as though flying along the Milky Way, which is as flat around the horizon as it can get this month, like a plate, or a dish, and it seems to have “run away” from view. And while this is occurring, the Big Dipper, is straight up overhead: The dish runs away with the spoon!
Aside from this, my entire knowledge of the constellations I learned from The Simpsons.
Pepe: “Tell me more! I want to know all the constellations.”
Homer: “Well, there’s Jerry the Cowboy, and that big dipper looking thing? Alan . . . the Cowboy.”
It wasn’t always about the hot dogs. Originally, believe it or not, Labor Day actually had something to do with showing respect for labor.
Here’s how it happened: In 1894 Pullman workers, facing wage cuts in the wake of a financial crisis, went on strike — and Grover Cleveland deployed 12,000 soldiers to break the union. He succeeded, but using armed force to protect the interests of property was so blatant that even the Gilded Age was shocked. So Congress, in a lame attempt at appeasement, unanimously passed legislation symbolically honoring the nation’s workers.
It’s all hard to imagine now. Not the bit about financial crisis and wage cuts — that’s going on all around us. Not the bit about the state serving the interests of the wealthy — look at who got bailed out, and who didn’t, after our latter-day version of the Panic of 1893. No, what’s unimaginable now is that Congress would unanimously offer even an empty gesture of support for workers’ dignity. For the fact is that many of today’s politicians can’t even bring themselves to fake respect for ordinary working Americans….
I know that these days it’s not kewel to speak well of unions. And a lot of that of that is labor’s fault – some of them have become bureaucratic, some were taken over by organized crime for their juicy pension funds, but mostly they did not understand the relentless propaganda that the 1% would employ against them and they failed to rebut it. They assumed, incorrectly it turns out, that reasonable people would ignore the nonsense, such as “right to work” for peanuts laws.
People forgot that their income is my spending, and my income is their spending. If I (or a bunch of us) stop spending because I’m laid off, or I lose my house, or I’m sequestered, then your income goes down too. You’re better off when we’re all better off. Even crusty old arch-conservative Henry Ford understood this. When confronted by his fellow top-hat-wearing one-percenters over the $5 a day he paid for his factory workers, he supposedly said: “I got to pay them $5 a day. If I don’t, they can’t afford to buy a Ford.”
Back in the 1950′s and 1960′s about 35% of American workers were unionized. It was not so coincidentally, the peak years of the American middle class. Union membership fell off in the 1980′s and the middle class has been dwindling along with it. The data is clear in these two charts to ruin Labor Day. Wages as a percentage of GDP (the overall economy) are at an all time low. Blame it on de-unionization, tax policy, or to a lack of investment in education, but for whatever reason, gains in productivity have not translated into higher wages.
Here’s some Labor Day music from Irish commie union thugs the Dropkick Murphys. Happy Labor Day!
To display your local weather, click on the 3 short lines at the top right of the widget. Delete “Washington D.C.,” and start typing the name of your nearest fairly large city. When the correct city appears in the drop down list, select it. Wait for the Page to reload, and there’s your weather. The page should remember your city.