Hedgehog and Groundhog Day
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"The snail moves like a
Hovercraft, held up by a
Rubber cushion of itself,
Sharing its secret
With the hedgehog. The hedgehog
Shares its secret with no one.
We say, Hedgehog, come out
Of yourself and we will love you."
~ The Hedgehog, Paul Muldoon, 2013
Groundhog Day, an offshoot of Candlemas Day, began as a European and Pennsylvania German custom in the 18th and 19th centuries, substituting the native American groundhog for the European hedgehog as the preferred animal to use to predict an early or late spring! Although a symbol of good luck in many cultures, in medieval times in Britain, the hedgehog was believed by farmers to be thieves who stole milk from their cows by sucking on them at night, as well as stealing eggs! Medieval bestiaries and illuminated texts show hedgehogs gathering food with their quills, which though inaccurate, still persists in imagery today! Given their name because of their affinity for hedgerows and for the pig-like grunts and squeaks they make, hedgehogs were originally called "urchins" throughout the Middle Ages, inspiring the name of the similarly spiky sea creatures. Baby hedgehogs are still called urchins while a group of hedgehogs is referred to as an 'array'!
Hedgehogs in the Garden
There are seventeen species of hedgehog found throughout parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and in New Zealand (by introduction). There are no hedgehogs native to Australia, and no living species native to the Americas.
Hedgehogs share distant ancestry with shrews and have changed little over the last 15 million years. Like many of the first mammals, they have adapted to a nocturnal way of life. Hedgehogs' spiny protection resembles that of the unrelated porcupines, which are rodents, and echidnas, a type of monotreme.
The name hedgehog came into use around the year 1450, derived from the Middle English heyghoge, from heyg, hegge ("hedge"), because it frequents hedgerows, and hoge, hogge ("hog"), from its piglike snout.
Other names include urchin, hedgepig and furze-pig. The more recently named sea urchin borrowed it's name from the hedgehog.
A group of hedgehogs is an array.
Supposedly, when German settlers got to America and found no hedgehogs, they turned to the similar-enough groundhog for their winter-weather predictions.
Interestingly, one of the more famous hedgehogs in literature, Beatrix Potter's, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, was inspired by Kitty MacDonald, a Scottish washerwoman the Potters employed over the course of eleven summers at Dalguise House on the River Tay in Perthshire. Potter wrote in her journal during the time: "Went out with the pony ... to see Kitty MacDonald, our old washerwoman ... Kitty is eighty-three but waken, and delightfully merry ... She is a comical, round little woman, as brown as a berry and wears a multitude of petticoats and a white mutch. Her memory goes back for seventy years, and I really believe she is prepared to enumerate the articles of her first wash in the year '71".
For more fascinating hedgehog facts about Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and hedgehogs in general, click the illustration of Mrs. Tiggy-winkle by Beatrix Potter and the beautiful hibernating hedgehog illustration below by illustrator Jenny Tylden Wright, respectively.