Thursday, February 2, 2006

Ground Hog Day, Hedge Hog Day, Candlemas Day, Self Renewal Day, February 2nd

Groundhog Day, it's more than a movie. (Although, the movie is quite funny.) Traditionally, on February 2 the "official groundhog" wakes up and comes up out of his burrow. If he sees his shadow, he will return to the burrow for six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, he remains outside and starts his year, because he knows that spring has arrived early.

In these here Unites States, the "official" groundhog is kept in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. And come February 2, amid wild and raucous celebration early in the morning, "Punxsutawney Phil", is pulled (poor thing) from his den by his keepers, who are dressed inappropriately for 7am in tuxedos. Phil then supposedly whispers his winter weather secrets into the ear of an official, who then will announce them to the anxiously-awaiting crowd.

And why do we do this? What led to these acts of groundhog abuse?

According to my Mythology,Legend and Folklore class that I took a million years ago, the Delaware Indians settled what later became Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania near the Susquehanna River, about 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The name Punxsutawney comes from the Delaware name for the place, which means "the town of thousand flies." (Which, of course, is where I would want to settle.)

The Delaware Tribe creation myths honored groundhogs as one of the ancestors of mankind. According to their creation story, man began life as animals harbored by Mother Earth. Men emerged from the ground to hunt and to live as a tribe.

The groundhog, is also known as a woodchuck (Marmota monax), and is a member of the squirrel family.

German settlers came to the Pennsylvania valley and brought their own tradition of Candlemas. Candlemas is the day halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. They, the Pennsylvania "Dutch," had their own traditional rhyme for the day (don't ask me why it is in English, if they were German settlers. I don't make this up, I just rehash it.)

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,Winter will have another flight; But if it be dark with clouds and rain, Winter is gone, and will not come again.
So, apparently, in Germany people would watch to see if hibernating animals would come out of the holes on Candlemas day- hibernating animals like bear and badgers. When they arrived to the Americas they watched for the next best thing...a groundhog!

The first recorded reference to "Groundhog Day" is found in a journal entry kept at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College:

February 4, 1841 - from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate." The Authentic Campaigner (entry 7)

The "official" celebration of Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania began on February 2nd, 1886. The groundhog was given the name "Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary" NASA Observation of Gobbler's Knob, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and his hometown thus called the "Weather Capital of the World."
In case you are worried about the treatment of Punxsutawney Phil, according to several sources, Phil currently weighs 15 pounds and thrives on dog food and ice cream in his climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library. His only non-normal duty is when he is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump (Gobbler's Knob) before being yanked out of his slumber at exactly 7:25 a.m. every February 2nd.

Now on to Hedge Hog Day

According to Hedge Hog Central, Groundhog Day is just an American version of Hedge Hog Day, which was a Roman celebration. Unfortunately, that's not what I learned in my Myth, Legend and Folklore class at BYU. So, I present to you an alternative foundation for Groundhog Day, not sanctioned by BYU folklorists.
Long before the advent of Groundhog Day on February 2nd, the Romans observed a similar event thousands of years ago on the exact same day. Rather than use the North American groundhog, the Romans used the hedgehog.

"If during hibernation, he (the hedgehog) looks out of his den on 2nd February and sees his shadow it means there is a clear moon and six more weeks of winter so he returns to his burrow."

The only difference between this ancient event and the present day version (aside from the hedgehog, of course) is the fact that the Romans would look to see if the hedgehog saw its shadow under a clear moon at night.

Here in North America, where we have no indigenous species of hedgehog, we replaced the hedgehog with the native groundhog.(Hedge Hog Central)
Wikipedia also supports the claim that Groundhog Day is just an Americanized version of the Roman Festival of Februa.

My only personal comments about Hedge Hog Day are:
1) Isn't that the cutest baby animal picture ever! and
2) How do you tell if an animal sees its shadow by night? By the moon? and
3)what if it's Chinese New Year and therefore a New Moon on February 2nd? How do you celebrate Februa then?

Hedgehogs are mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae. There are 15 species of hedgehog found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and New Zealand. There are no hedgehogs native to the Americas or Australia. And that, is that.

Self Renewal Day

Since we are talking about lots of animals today, I decided that I needed to dedicate Self Renewal Day to the Phoenix, because what animal renews itself better? And to Henry David Thoreau. Just becuase I want to.

Self-renewal-type quotes from Henry David

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler." - Henry David Thoreau

"Things do not change; we change." -Henry David Thoreau

"Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -Henry David Thoreau

And just because I like this one...

Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk. -Henry David Thoreau

To promote my own self renewal, and to avoid the fate of the Phoenix, I set the goal of drinking 8 oz of water whenever I read or write a blog. If I keep this goal, I will either reduce my blogging time, or I will increase my bathroom time.


Th. said...


I learned on the radio today that Phil has a competitor-- General Beauxregard Lee, in Georgia I think.

Absent-minded Secretary said...

Yeah, and I just got this email from The Homestead a resort in Midway, Utah...

It's Groundhog Day!!
Midway Milt, our local groundhog and weather prognosticator did not see his shadow.
We are going to have an early spring!!

Absent-minded Secretary said...

After thinking about it, I am beginning to doubt the reality of "Midway Milt." I did not receive an invite to any Groundhog Day festivities, and The Homestead emails me at least twice a week.

"Midway Milt" must be the figment of some marketing manager's imagination.

Sad. They should have chosen a hedge hog.

Th. said...


My class and I were talking yesterday about the need for a western hedgehog. How the hey can Phil know what's going on here?

Absent-minded Secretary said...

Yeah, Phil doesn't really even see his shadow anymore. He get's pulled out of a plastic hole, and held up in front of thousands of people, and then he "secretly whispers" his "weather prediction" to one of the "Inner Circle." And we thought that Groundhog Day was safe from commercialism.