Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Groundhog Day vs. Setsubun and the Coming of Spring.

Well, February is already here. Everyone knows that February is time for Setsubun in Japan. Many people ask if we have a holiday like Setsubun in the US. Indeed, we do! Our holiday is called Groundhog Day. It is celebrated in the US and Canada. It's probably not as big of a national event as Setsubun is in Japan, but it is still well-known by most Americans and Canadians.

In Japan, Setsubun means the divisions of the seasons. It is also called Risshun, and is traditionally the beginning of spring. Well, Groundhog Day is all about the coming of spring, too. This holiday began in Europe. But, people aren't sure exactly when it started. Setsubun is on February 3 and Groundhog Day is on February 2. Since Japan is almost one day ahead of the US, they are on the same day in real time.

In America, on Groundhog Day, a small animal called a Groundhog that usually hibernates (sleeps all winter long), comes out of the ground from its nest, and looks for its shadow. According to folklore, if the Groundhog sees its shadow, we will have 6 more weeks of winter. If the animal does not see a shadow, we will have an early spring. So, if the weather is good on this day, it is bad. If the weather is bad on this day, it is good.

There are many areas that have ceremonies with real, living Groundhogs in different cities and towns around the US. The oldest and most famous ceremony is in a small town in Pennsylvania called Punxsutawney (Punxsutawney is a Native American word). The community keeps the most famous groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil inside an old tree stump. Early in the morning on February 2, in a big ceremony, the Groundhog comes out of his home, and predicts the weather.

If you want to learn more about Groundhog Day, I have one recommendation. In 1993, a famous movie called Groundhog Day was released in movie theaters in the US. (The Japanese title is  恋はデジャ・ブ ). It is a comedy and love story about a New York TV weatherman sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to report about this famous event. The weatherman doesn't want to go, and because of something supernatural, he is forced to relive the day over and over again. You can buy or rent this movie. It's an entertaining look at the holiday and you can learn about Groundhog Day in America.

Also, you can look at the official website for the ceremony in Punxsutawney at this webpage http://www.groundhog.org.