Leave the Rodent Alone!

by Iram Khan

as February 2 fast approaches, schools, politicians, churches, and towns like Wiarton Ontario prepare for the most ridiculous holiday still celebrated: Groundhog Day.


A bit of history...

Groundhog Day has developed to the wonderful holiday it is today out of a number of Pagan and Christian traditions:

  • The ancient Romans observed the beginning of spring on February 5th with a purification festival.

  • The Armenian Church held an ancient fire-god festival each February 2nd, when the weather of the future was forecasted by the way that the smoke blew from the fires lit in church courtyards.

  • February 2 is a traditional Christian festival that commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of her son. It also marks the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple. By the middle of the 5th century, since Christ was associated with light, it was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of winter. A lighted candle was placed in each window of the home, thus the name "Candlemas."

  • In Ireland, February 1st is the feast day of Saint Brigit, the spiritual protector of sheep and cattle. Before Christianity converted the Irish Celts, though, Saint Brigit's Day was known as Imbolc (ewes' milk). This day marked the beginning of spring and celebrated the birth of farm animals. Imbolc was dedicated to the Celtic goddess Brigit, who was associated with learning, poetry, crafts and healing. Goddess Brigit, was eventually incorporated into Christian festivities when she was transformed into a saint.

  • In the mid-18th century, German settlers, brought the Candlemas traditions to the United States. Additionally, they are known to have been the ones to attach the groundhog to the holiday. Before they arrived to the U.S., though, they had regarded the badger as their winter-spring barometer. (I guess the couldn't find any cooperative badgers.) Superstition held that if the weather was fair, the second half of Winter would be stormy and cold. Eventually the predictions changed to: If the sun came out February 2, it meant six more weeks of wintry weather. Thus, if the groundhog casted a shadow... you fill in the rest.

Wiarton Willie

The "official" Canadian groundhog is Wiarton Willie, an albino groundhog who has an impressive 90% accuracy rate with his predictions. According to his official website, Wiarton Willie was born precisely on the 45th parallel - midway point between the Equator and the North Pole, and his talents were discovered in 1956. That means that Wiarton Willie must be about 43 years old. I may not be well versed in groundhogology, but isn't that a bit old? I found my answer, sort of, from The Groundhogs at HogHaven website where they state that groundhogs "can live for several years, however, most do not live that long... many do not survive hibernation." So either Willie is some sort of mutant groundhog, his very being distorted by some radiation or something, or Willie is one cantankerous little guy.

Now, for a more realistic explanation, Wiarton Willie attracts over 10,000 visitors to the small, small town of Wiarton, Ontario. Imagine what would happen if he died. Tourism would die and the money would run dry. Perhaps Wiarton Willie should change his name to "Tourism Buck."

I wonder how many albino groundhogs have replaced the original Wiarton Willie's den? Are albino groundhogs even a common occurrence? (If anyone knows, please let me know.)

Some Groundhog Facts

Hibernation Habits: Usually lasts from September or October to March or April, where their body temperature falls below freezing and their heart beat and breathing drops to near death proportions. Now, imagine waking up from such a deep sleep with pokes, camera flashes, loud music and cheers, just so the technologically advanced human race can be told whether or not they can put their shovels and winter apparel in storage!

Natural Enemies: Bears, wolves, lynx, bobcats, cougars, foxes, dogs and of course humans (especially mayors of small towns that need an economic boost).

Family Ties: After groundhogs are informed about the ways of the world, they are sent off to live on their own. Even after groundhogs mate, the male groundhog leaves the female to raise the cubs on her own. Groundhogs are quite the solitary animal.

Weight: 4-10 pounds. In the fall, they gain 20 to 30 percent of their body weight in preparation for hibernation.

Food: Groundhogs are mostly vegetarians. Unfortunately for the farmers and gardeners out there, groundhogs have been known to take off with entire tomato patches.

Groundhogday: A National Holiday?

A few members of parliament are trying to get Groundhog Day declared a national holiday. For example, last year, Ovid Jackson (the MP for Grey-Bruce, where Wiarton is located!) collected thousands of signatures and presented them to parliament for this cause. Every year this story, though, seems to pop up and then disappear like the groundhog himself.

Groundhog Day Links and Sources

The Rodent Corner
St. Groundhog's Day

The Groundhogs at HogHaven
Groundhog 101, groundhog sounds, photos.....check for more

Wiarton Willie's Wonderland
Official World Wide Web Home of Wiarton Willie

Groundhog Day
FYI about Groundhog Day...

Groundhog Day History from Stormfax®

Groundhog Day
Punxsutawney Phil (America's groundhog) and The Legend of Groundhog Day

Iram Khan would not like to be awoken in the middle of her hibernation, if she were a groundhog, that is.
back to cancontent