Hedgehog Day: Groundhog Day's German Great-Uncle

February 2, 2019

Have you ever wondered who dreamed up Groundhog Day? What can be so special about February 2?

 

In 1887, “Groundhog Day” started as a circulation-boosting stunt by a newspaper in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The paper got the idea from area German-speaking immigrants who brought the notion of a weather-predicting rodent from Europe. In the Old Country they watched out for the February 2nd actions of hedgehogs (left). Here they had to rely on the resident groundhogs (below).

 

February 2 marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. To the ancient Celts these midway points were very sacred occasions. This one marks the point where days are noticeably longer, bringing hope for the arrival of spring. To celebrate they would build fires and visit sacred wells to leave offerings and pray. Their priests would then interpret omens to predict the weather for the upcoming growing season.  

 

Christianity adapted the day as Candlemas, the return of light. Candles were blessed and passed out to worshippers. Being 40 days after Christmas, February 2 is also celebrated as the day Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem as related in Luke 2:22-24.

 

All around the globe, learned folk in the distant past spent a lot of time studying the movements of heavenly bodies. From their observations, they developed very accurate calendars upon which their agricultural societies conducted vital activities. Whether it be the Mayan calendar or Stonehenge, one has to be impressed by these ancient astronomers.

 

Considering the popularity of The Weather Channel, we are just as concerned with prevailing weather patterns as the ancients were. Some of you may consult the Farmers’ Almanac, and as a gardener I know that folk beliefs are as popular as ever when it comes to weather predictions.

 

One which varies from region to region uses Easter as a reference point. In this area one is to plant peas on Ash Wednesday. In Nebraska, one is to plant peas on Good Friday. In that Easter moves around the calendar from one year to the next, it might be interesting to see if there is some truth in this folk wisdom.

 

Punxsutawney remains Groundhog Central. No matter if Phil retreats from the sunlight to his den, we still have to wait six more weeks for the first day of spring. Of course, if he

does not see his shadow, these last weeks of winter may be mild. I’ve already seen daffodils blooming in my yard. Now, that’s a January first! 

 

Master gardener Ann Bartlett awaits the coming of spring in the ornamental beds around her home. Checking to see if her shadow was visible, she perceived instead the above early blooms. There is hope!

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