Groundhog Day was Tuesday of this week. Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring, which I am looking forward to. I thought a groundhog tale would be appropriate. This one is a Cherokee tale.
Seven wolves once caught a Groundhog and said, “Now we’ll kill you and have something good to eat.” But the Groundhog said, “When we find good food we must rejoice over it, as people do in the Green-corn dance. I know you mean to kill me and I can’t help myself, but if you want to dance I’ll sing for you. This is a new dance entirely. I’ll lean up against seven trees in turn and you will dance out and then turn and come back, as I give the signal, and at the last turn you may kill me.”
The wolves were very hungry, but they wanted to learn the new dance, so they told him to go ahead. The Groundhog leaned up against a tree and began the song, “Ha’wiye’ehi’,” and all the wolves danced out in front, until he gave the signal, “Yu!” and ended with “Hi’yagu’we” when they turned and danced back in line. “That’s fine,” said the Groundhog, and went over to the next tree and started the second song. The Wolves danced out and then turned at the signal and danced back again. “That’s very fine,” said the Groundhog, and went over to another tree and started the third song. The wolves danced their best and the Groundhog encouraged them, but at each song he moved to another tree, and each tree was a little nearer to his hole under a stump. At the seventh song he said, “Now, this is the last dance, and when I say Yu! you will all turn and come after me, and the one who gets me may eat me.” So he began the seventh song and kept singing until the wolves were away out in front. Then he gave the signal, Yu! and made a jump for his hole. The wolves turned and were after him, but he reached the hole first and dived in. Just as he got inside, the quickest wolf caught him by the tail and gave it such a pull that it broke off, and the Groundhog’s tail has been short ever since.
Going back to Groundhog day, it evolved from a few sources. There was an ancient celebration of the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring Equinox. Then, the Christian holiday of Candlemas is Feb. 2 and celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and Mary’s purification. It’s not a holiday we celebrate in our church, so honestly I don’t know much about it, but we all know how people like to combine Christian and Pagan holidays. German settlers brought folklore that associated the shadows of animals, including the hibernating hedgehog, with an extended winter, when they settled in Pennsylvania. Hedgehogs aren’t native to North America, but groundhogs are, and they first emerge from their burrows in early February when hedgehogs do. Put all of it together, and we get Groundhog Day.
According to Wikipedia, the first documented American reference to Groundhog Day can be found in a diary entry, dated February 4, 1841, by Morgantown, Pennsylvania, storekeeper James Morris:
Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.
From England, the poem:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
From Scotland, the poem:
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.
From Germany, the poem:
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.
Maybe I should go out to Punxsutawney one of these years. It’s only about 2½ hours away.
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.