As we begin a new year, we realize that many of our 21st-century traditions are rooted in new year pagan beliefs and superstitions about animals.
January gets its name from the Roman god Janus – the protector of gates and doorways. A tradition arose to drive away the forces of darkness by making noise. In Thailand, people fire guns. In China, they set off fireworks. In Switzerland, people beat drums, and in Italy, they ring church bells. In the early American colonies, people fired guns to drive away evil spirits. Today, people use party horns and sirens.
February comes from the Latin word “februa,” meaning to cleanse. The name originated in the Roman celebration Februalia, a month-long festival of purification and atonement. February’s most interesting tradition is on February 2, Groundhog Day, which falls on the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. For centuries, farmers in France and England looked to a bear to indicate if there would be more winter weather. In Germany, a badger told farmers if winter was ending, so they knew when to plant and hire laborers.
When German immigrants came to Pennsylvania in the 1800s, they brought this tradition with them. There were no badgers in Pennsylvania, so they substituted a groundhog. In 1887, the people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, invented Punxatawney Phil to predict the seasonal change. Other towns have adopted their own groundhog traditions, such as Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario. Studies have shown no consistent correlation between the predictions of the groundhogs and the arrival of spring weather.
I have a farmer friend who swears he can tell how bad winter will be by looking at the caterpillars in his garden. I have seen energy-charged debates about whether animal behavior can predict the weather. So many variables control climate that humans will always have problems trying to predict when spring will arrive and when to plant crops.
New year pagan beliefs and superstitions involving animals are not dependable. One thing that is always right and never misleading is the teaching of Jesus Christ. When you read Matthew 5 – 7, you will find principles that are true and unchanging. Trust God’s Word to guide your life, and realize that the physical world in which we live will always be unpredictable. Any human attempts to predict the future will always be prone to error.
— John N. Clayton © 2021
Some of this data came from The Old Farmers Almanac at Almanac.com/Store.