Happy (Belated) Badger’s Day!
By Rene Stroud, Pottawattamie County Conservation Naturalist
It may sound strange but if circumstances had been different, the groundhog may not be the star of February 2nd. In order not to diminish the groundhogs limelight, we graciously waited until after Groundhog’s Day was over to tell you the circuitous tale.
February 2nd has a long history of significance to some cultures as it is the midway point between winter and spring. This day marks the successful passing of winter and the beginning of the growing and milking season. Over time rituals, customs, and locations have changed, yet the date remained the same. One of these celebrations was “Imbolc” from Celtic origins. Fires were lit throughout the land and people celebrated with rituals and customs such as weather prognostication. As Christianity spread, this tradition was combined with the Candlemas celebration and feast. The Candlemas celebration marks the end of the 40-day purification period for new mothers. It is currently celebrated with a feast, fire from candles, and weather forecasting.
The obsession with weather forecasting in midwinter makes perfect sense, aren’t we all starting to get a little antsy for spring? Winter can be a dangerous and tiresome time of the year. Finding signs of spring in nature gave people clues about how long they will have to wait for the growing season to begin. Europeans used many animals other than the groundhog. An old Imbolic verse mentions snakes, in some parts of Eastern Europe Candlemas was known as the Day of the Bear. In England people waited for the Hedgehog, in France they waited for the marmot, and in Germany Candlemas as synonymous with Badger Day. An old German verse stated that “If it finds snow it walks aboard; but if it sees sun it returns to its burrow.” In Germany, Badger Day was also the time when the sun was out long enough that you could eat supper in the light. I would feast to that too! Badgers have many unique adaptations that make them great mascots.
When the Dutch made it to Pennsylvania, they brought their German traditions with them. However, the American Badger’s range that extends from California to Mexico, ends before the east coast. The settlers simply had to find a replacement animal. It just so happens that a large rodent called a groundhog, woodchuck, or whistle pig did live along the east coast and it hibernated, thus fulfilling the old traditions requirements and stealing away the Badgers place as prognosticator. For more information the history Groundhogs Day please visit: http://www.stormfax.com/ghogday.htm#Origins
Didn’t hear what you wanted from the groundhog? Look at this chart and it will make you feel better: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/customer-support/education-resources/groundhog-day
Here are 10 fun facts about badgers to help you really get to know these Iowa natives!