Groundhog Day, Hedgehogs and and the History of Candlemas

By Francine McKenna on Email

Ground Hog Day

According to a German legend the forerunners to the Groundhog Day tradition were hedgehogs, which are now a protected species in Germany with their own Hedgehog Hotline, open to anyone with an Igel emergency, countrywide support associations and specialized food available in almost all supermarkets.

Most healthy hedgehogs enjoy their winter hibernation, sleeping the time away until Spring arrives, except it seems many years ago, and perhaps even now, around the beginning of February they would leave their den, inspect the weather and depending on what they found decide whether or not they would disappear for another four or so weeks, or begin slowly to come back to life.

For several European nations, including the Romans, once they had been introduced to the custom by the Scottish Celts, hedgehogs became a form of weather forecaster, and there was ancient German proverb:

Wenn der Igel Lichtmess seinen Schatten sieht,
so Kriecht er wieder auf sechs Wochen ins Loch.

If the hedgehog sees his shadow at Candlemas,
He will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks

And February 2nd is Candlemas.  For the Romans “weather forecasting day” was February 5th with no connection to Candlemas, however the custom was brought to the USA by German and English immigrants with those from England also having a piece of farmer’s wisdom:

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


These cultures had for centuries predicted the spring weather by watching the behavior of hedgehogs at Candlemas, February 2nd, celebrating when a cloudy day meant there was no shadow as, in their experience, this seemed to show that there was to be a quick end to the cold winter season.

Actually it was thought that originally a bear was used as the weather forecaster, but for whatever reason, now lost in the mists of time, it became the hedgehog.

Just how impatient they were to see the arrival of spring was summed up by another German proverb, ‘a shepherd would rather see a wolf enter his stable on Candlemas Day than see the sun shine’.  Wolves were then widespread throughout the country, a dreaded enemy of farmers, shepherds and of course sheep.

However an absence of hedgehogs when the settlers arrived in the ‘New World’ meant an alternative was found, and it is now the shadow of a Ground hog, the woodchuck respected by the Delaware Indians as a wise, sensible animal and their honorable ancestor, which on a sunny clear February day predicts six more weeks of winter weather with a tradition that became known as the Groundhog Day.


Believe it or not, there is more to the tradition of Ground Hog day with the religious celebration of Candlemas Day or feast of Maria Lichtmess that early European immigrants brought with them to America.  Head on over to the source link below to get the full story

Source: Bella Online
Photos by Aaron Silvers and XWiz via flickr

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Francine McKenna