What do bears and groundhogs have in common? At first glance, not a lot, but each is viewed as a harbinger of winter weather in their own meteorological way. In Italy, on February 2, instead of Groundhog Day, there is La Festa dell’Orso – the Feast of the Bear. Held on the occasion of the religious celebration of Candelmas, the ‘Bear’s Day’ takes place in the Puglian town of Putignano, near Bari. The tradition takes the form of a masked craftsman who runs through the village with a bear on a leash. For reasons of safety, the bears are now people dressed in costume!
Like Groundhog Day, the bear is seen as an oracle of the weather. If the weather is good, the bear can forage for food and then return to slumber, meaning the winter has a ways to go, namely another six weeks. If the weather is poor, it a sign that the bear will not venture out, but that is a good omen. Soon the hungry bear will emerge from hibernation signaling an end to the winter. The “bear party” of the Putignano Carnival is a lyric-theatrical presentation staged along the streets throughout the town, with dozens of actors, dancers and musicians. This celebration is now in its 626th year.