Many of the traditions and holidays we celebrate today have tangled ties to different times and cultures. One such holiday is Groundhog Day. The beginning of February is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Many ancient cultures, such as the Celtics and Romans, celebrated the first signs of spring, the return of the sun, and the beginning of the agricultural year with festivals of light, rebirth, and fertility. At the time, the main celebrations were the Gaelic Imbolc and Roman Lupercalia, but these were replaced with Candlemas as pagan holidays became Christianized.
During Candlemas, Germans would look to the hedgehog to divine the coming weather. For German families emigrating to North American farms in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the most common cousin of the hedgehog (at least by looks) they could find was, you guessed it...the groundhog! So Groundhog Day began.
We may wonder what place ancient traditions hold in our modern world, but as people face what seem like unparalleled times, celebrating life and the earth around us through ritual is as relevant as ever. Being part of something bigger can help us bridge our differences and build community.
We don’t have hedgehogs or groundhogs in East Bay Regional Parks, but we have plenty of California ground squirrels! Like groundhogs, they live in burrows...perhaps they can predict the weather as well? Regardless, these common rodents are a great food source for birds of prey; even bald eagles, who typically prefer fish, are known to eat them.