By Jay Kaplan
I’ve always had a fondness for Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, the only “holiday” on our Western calendar named after an animal.
With so many cold winter days between New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, one would think this cheerful day would play a more prominent role. Oh sure, Punxsutawney Phil gets yanked out of his burrow by some guy in a top hat, and it always makes the national news, but let’s face it, kids around here don’t get the day off from school.
So what’s up with Groundhog Day, anyway? The day actually comes from a German tradition. If the sun came out on Candlemas, the holiday’s original name, the hedgehog would see its shadow and six more weeks of winter would follow.
When German settlers came to Pennsylvania, the tradition continued, but as there were no hedgehogs in this country, the groundhog, also known as the woodchuck, was substituted to predict the coming of spring. The first official celebration of Groundhog Day was held in Punxsutawney, Pa., in 1886.
Groundhog Day does not go unnoticed here in Connecticut. “Chuckles,” a groundhog who lives at the Lutz Children’s Museum in Manchester, gets some notoriety every year, but Chuckles has a pretty cushy life. It would be a stretch to say that he (or she?) is really hibernating.
Then, there is “Essex Ed,” the giant papier-mache groundhog who has been the featured attraction in a parade down the main street of this picturesque town on the lower Connecticut River. I like to think that the descendants of “Canton Clyde” — a groundhog who was rousted from hibernation by a construction project almost two decades ago and spent a winter season with us before being released into our fields come spring — are still predicting the coming of spring here in Canton.
Will the groundhog awaken from hibernation and peek out of its burrow on Feb. 2 this year? If it sees its shadow, will it be startled and dive back into the safety of Mother Earth, giving us six more weeks of winter? If the groundhog does not see its shadow, will we have an early spring?
My guess is six more weeks of winter. How about you? Though no self-respecting woodchuck would be caught out in these frigid winter temperatures, the legend of Groundhog Day adds a bright spot to a long winter season.
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Join Jay Kaplan at Roaring Brook Nature Center on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2 p.m. for a one-hour nature walk entitled, “Goin’ on a Bear Hunt.” We won’t see any bears or groundhogs, but we will look for signs of winter life.
Dress warmly for this event. Call 860-693-0263 or check the Roaring Brook’s website (www.roaringbrook.org) for additional information.
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Jay Kaplan is the director of Roaring Brook Nature Center, located at 70 Gracey Road in Canton. Posts from Jay will appear occasionally on dotCANTON.com.