Di Has Stories…

(and they’re all true)

My Annual Defense of Hedgehog Day February 2, 2007

Filed under: hedgies — Diana @ 9:43 am

Today, in North America, is Groundhog Day.  My mother has already made her annual call to me to let me know that Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, and that it will be an early spring.  As it was -2 in Minneapolis when my beloved drove me to work this morning, I tend to think that the reason Phil did not see his shadow this morning was because his head was placed firmly up his bum.  For warmth, of course.

It is in this space, if memory serves , that I generally make my annual defense of Hedgehog Day.   In years past, I have taken my information from Hedgehog Central , which is generally a fantastic source of information about all things hedgie.  However, this year, I had a looksee at Wikipedia, which has this to day in it’s entry about Hedgehog Day:

It is notable that this account traces the tradition of Groundhog Day back to the Romans. An implied claim that Groundhog Day can be traced back to the Romans occurs on a page entitled “Hedgehog Day” at hedghogcentral.com. The page states:

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.[2] (This quote was gathered Jan. 31, 2007)

However, this information is unsourced, and there is no Hedgehog Day attested in lists of holidays from the Roman Calendar on February 2 or any other day.[1]

Furthermore, there is no attestation that Romans observed hedgehogs to predict the length of winter. It is true that ancient Greeks entertained a belief, or maybe literary conceit, that Hedgehogs were clever—probably because of their trick of curling up and exposing only a hostile spiny surface to predators. [2] Two Greek authors, AristotlePlutarch tell us that hedgehogs have an uncanny ability to sense changes in wind direction and thereby predict weather; they also report that a man from Cyzicus or Byzantium (presumably a Greek and far from the Roman homeland) got famous for predicting the weather on the basis of hedgehog behavior [3] Moreover, a similar claim that hedgehogs can predict winds appears in a first century A.D. Roman author, Pliny the Elder[4]. This information then resurfaces in the writings of the medieval German polymath Albertus Magnus[5].This alleged ability to foretell future weather may relate to the notion that a putative Hedgehog Day inspired modern Groundhog Day. In addition, the apparent passage of the information on hedgehogs’ ability from the Roman Pliny to the German Albertus Magnus reflects the notion that Hedgehog Day passed from the Romans to the Germans. However, there is no necessary reason to believe that the writings of Pliny the Elder and Albertus Magnus reflect contemporary folk beliefs or practices more than they do an independent, non-folkloric literary tradition. and

In short, there is no evidence for an ancient Roman Hedgehog Day that resembled the modern Groundhog Day.

Whhhhaaaaatttt???  Does Wikipedia, my favorite online source of information and inspiration, mean to say that I have been haughtily telling everyone who will listen – any many who do not care to – on and around February 2nd that the day is in fact Hedgehog Day in defense of my favorite animal….that I am WRONG???  That I did not properly research my claim?  Have I become one of those people that I make fun of that have based a belief on a half-assed set of fact that they not only did not properly look into, but refuse to look into because to learn the truth would mean that they need to examine their one beleifs more closely and maybe admit that they were wrong??

Well, I won’t be one of those people.  I must do more research.  Yes, to Teh Internets I must turn, and uncover truthiness.

Here’s what I found:

*Apparenly Sonic the Hedgehog starred in a parody of the movie Groundhog Day.  Interesting, but not relevant.

*Ron Jeremy, the porn star, is known as The Hedgehog.  I did know this, as that messes up my Everything Hedgehog Flickr feed.  Beleive you me, there is nothing more disturbing than to see a picture of Ron Jeremy over your morning cup of coffee.

*Hamor Hollow Hedgehogs stated the following:

“Hedgehog Day”, celebrated on February 2, has its roots in an ancient pagan celebration the Scottish Celts called Imbolog, honoring Brigit, the Earth Mother. (In Scotland and Ireland, this is Brigit’s Day – La Fheill na Bride – and is seen as the first day of spring).

Christians dedicated the day to Saint Brigit, patron of cattle and dairy farming. Legend says that Saint Brigit was born at sunrise on the threshold, neither inside nor outside of the house. Thus she represents the transition to spring.

This date marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In a society dependent on agriculture and therefore on the weather, this was a time to celebrate having made it halfway through winter. The superstition arose that if the weather was fair on Imbolog, the second half of the winter would be inclement, but if the weather was inclement on Imbolog, the second half of the winter would be fair.

In early Christian times in Europe, February 2 was celebrated as Candlemas Day, the legendary day when Christ was first presented in the temple. It was said that Candlemas was the time when the weather pattern for the remainder of the year would be apparent. If Candlemas was clear, it signaled foul weather ahead, but if it was cloudy, then one could expect conditions to improve. For centuries it was the custom to have clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people. According to an old English song:

“If Candlemas be fair and bright
Come, winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go, winter, and come not again.”

The Romans learned the traditional beliefs from the Scottish Celts, and brought them to the area that was to become Germany, where the Germans concluded that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of winter. German immigrants brought these beliefs with them to Pennsylvania, where the tradition of predicting the weather became centered around the woodchuck or groundhog, as there were no hedgehogs in North America. It seemed fitting, as the Native Americans already observed that the groundhog is a most wise and sensible animal. As people emigrated from great Britain to the US and Canada, they brought the myth along and changed it from a night-time moon shadow, to a daytime sun shadow to do the forecasting.

So Happy Hedgehog Day to everyone from all of us! A time of diminishing shadows – a time of celebrating light!

Information collected by Charlotte.

*Suite 101 also attributes the beginnings of Hedgehog day to the ancient Celts (I should have known that those old rellies of mine would have loved the hegies!).

*Reference.com has very similar references

In short, I am not sure what to think.  Without a detailed library at my disposal here at work,  it seems as if all the major reference sites are in agreement, but I’m not sure what the original source it.  The (very small) analytical part of me says that I should be skeptical, and do my own research, and not just depend on what I am told by Big Hedgehog.

But the romantic part of me says, Happy Hedgehog Day, everyone.  I hope your spikey friend didn’t see his shadow, and that spring comes soon to you!


3 Responses to “My Annual Defense of Hedgehog Day”

  1. John Says:

    The problem with all this stuff on the Celtic origin of Hedgehog Day and so on is that no primary sources are cited. A cynical reading of the actual evidence, I think, would indicate that Groundhog Day largely is the result of a successful marketing campaign around 1900 on the part of the people of Punxsutawney, PA, who parlayed a rather informal annual ground-squirrel hunt (groundhogs are big ground squirrels) and barbecue into our current Groundhog Day.

    By the way, I’m the author of the Wikipedia article. I have added to the article since then. I have been able to uncover NO evidence that Germans ever celebrated a Hedgehog Day, but I’d be delighted if someone else could point me to it.

  2. […] Hedgehog Day February 2, 2009 Filed under: hedgies — Diana @ 9:11 pm After my disappointment of two years ago* when I learned that hedgehogs might not actually be at the root of learning whether we have six […]

  3. […] as it is arse, not ass; harass and integral, with no internal stress; colour not color; so it is Hedgehog Day, not Groundhog […]

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