On Groundhog Day people in the USA and Canada wait for the little critters to emerge from their holes. For according to Anglo-Saxon folklore, if the groundhog comes out and sees its shadow, six more weeks of winter are sure to follow. And since he can only see his shadow on sunny days, a bright, sunny day foretells more winter and a cloudy day supposedly means spring is on the way.
Italy and groundhogs
Italy, along with many parts of the world, has no Groundhog Day.
Groundhog day in Italy? It’s called Candlemas, with visits to bears and wolves…Tweet
But like much of Europe it does celebrate Candlemas, which also falls on February 2. In many Christian traditions, it marks the presentation of the Christ child in the temple. It is also the day when many take their candles to the church for the minister to bless. Using these blessed candles throughout the year serves as a reminder that Christ is the light of the world.
But another reason for no Groundhog Day in Europe is that we have no groundhogs!
They are strictly a North American rodent. Although we do have some of their closely related marmot cousins. Yet Groundhog Day does have its origins in ancient European weather lore surrounding Candlemas Day.
Except that it was of course European mammals who took the celebrity role. Some say the badger was the protagonist, others the bear or wolf, and still others the hedgehog.
Personally, I stick with the hedgehog. My theory is this: The cute, adorable hedgehog never made it over to the New World, while the bear and badger did. So it stands to reason that, when the Americans imported the shadow watching tradition they needed a smallish animal as a substitute. And seized upon the unsuspecting groundhog!
It also has its own ancient weather forecasting lore.
Here in Italy it was the bear or wolf (depending on the region), who traditionally held the responsibility of making the midwinter forecast. And the following saying, translated from Italian, makes this perfectly clear.
If the bear throws off his bedding, coming out of his den, Winter will win again. But if he stays in, then Spring will soon return again.
Watching for bear or wolves to emerge has now largely gone by the wayside. Good thing too — it seems a rather dangerous pastime! Over time, the following catchy proverb replaced the animal watching. Nowadays all we have to do is watch the skies, from the warm safety of our homes!
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings clouds and rain, Winter is gone and won’t come again.
So greatly did people once believe these things, that fishermen even refused to set sail on Candlemas Day. They were convinced that any voyage undertaken that day would surely end in disaster.
Personally, I don’t pay much mind to any of these old wife’s tales. I’ll stick with what the Meteorologists say. They assure us that winter’s increased shipwrecks are probably due to February’s typically stormy weather. Which often continues well into March, whether any animal — groundhog, hedgehog, bear, or wolf — sees its shadow or not!
Who knows if we’ll have a long winter this year? In any case, I won’t be going out for any wolf or bear watching! Although we do have them here in the higher mountains! I’m hoping for a short winter. I’ve gotten so used to the warm mild Mediterranean climate that I’m ready for spring!
More Winter? I sure do hope not!
Images: Groundhog. | Others are my own.