Can a good Catholic drink to the groundhog and his shadow on this secular holiday? He sure can, for the groundhog works for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and this secular holiday owes its existence to the Church calendar.
In the traditional calendar, February 2 is “Candlemas,” the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which commemorates Mary’s ritual purification and her solemn presentation of her Son in the Holy Temple forty days after His birth. It was on this occasion that the aged prophet Simeon took the infant Jesus in his hands and declared him to be a “light for the revelation of the gentiles” (Luke 2:32). Simeon’s prophecy and the focus on light eventually led to a folk belief that the weather on February 2 had a particularly keen prognostic value. If the sun shone for the greater part of the day, there would be, it was claimed, forty more days of winter, but if the skies were cloudy and gray, there would be an early spring.
The Germans amended this lore by bringing into the equation either the badger or the hedgehog (not to mention their shadows); yet when they emigrated to Pennsylvania in colonial times, they could find no such creatures around. Instead they saw plenty of what the Native Americans in the area called a wojak, or woodchuck. Since the Indians considered the groundhog to be a wise animal, it seemed only natural to appoint the furry fellow—as Phil the Groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is now called—“Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.”
The Feast of the Purification got its nickname “Candlemas” (Mass of the Candles) because candles would be blessed on this day and used in great processions that would drive away the winter’s night.
A nice way to commemorate the grand Candlemas processions of old is with a flaming, minty after-dinner drink called a Medieval Candle. The wide mouth of a cocktail or liqueur glass works best; we found that a snifter, with its narrow top, does not properly combust the surface fumes. (It also helps that the ingredients are at least at room temperature.) Finally, the 100-proof Southern Comfort is preferable for combustion purposes. And don’t worry: some of that alcohol will be burned off.
½ oz. white crème de menthe
½ oz. Southern Comfort (100 proof if available)
Build ingredients in a small cocktail glass or liqueur glass and light the top.
Turn off the lights in order to enjoy the full effect. It will be tempting to let the mesmerizing blue flame continue burning, but remember that the longer it does, the hotter it will make the rim of the glass (and we do mean hot). You may even need to pour the drink into another glass to be on the safe side. And yes, you’ll want to blow out the flame before attempting to consume.
One of our favorite movies is the 1993 Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell (if you want my Catholic interpretation of the movie, click here. The article, incidentally, is much better after the second round). Several drinks in the movie are mentioned: Phil Connors (Bill Murray) drinks Jim Beam on the rocks, and Rita (Andie MacDowell) drinks sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist, which sounds like a girly drink but is actually quite good. And in the background you can also see giant steins of tantalizing beer in the German restaurant where Phil and Rita dine. Groundhog Party, anyone?
To make Rita’s drink, pour a couple of ounces of sweet vermouth into an old-fashioned glass with ice. Garnish with a twist of lemon and swirl about a bit before drinking.
One of the old candle blessings for this day makes an ideal toast, especially when a Medieval Candle is being served. “To our good Lord, a Light to the revelation of the Gentiles, who was presented in the Temple on this day. May we one day be presented in the Holy Temple of His glory, inflamed by the fire of His most sweet charity.”