Of hedgehogs and holidays

There's nothing like a gloomy winter to generate the longing for a good weather omen. In certain cultures, February 2 has traditionally filled that role for centuries. It's known in Christendom as Candlemas Day (formerly the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin). Sunshine on Candlemas Day has always signalled an ominous turn of events: “If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight/But if Candlemas Day bring clouds and rain, Winter is gone and won't come again.” In the secular world, ebruary 2 became Groundhog Day, named after the woodchuck (or badger, bear or hedgehog) whose shadow, if visible on that date, foretells six more weeks of winter. There's an astronomical basis to Groundhog Day that points to even more ancient roots. February 2 falls near the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In pagan cultures, such mid-point days were sacred, marked by rites and festivals. May Day (May 1) and Halloween (October 31) are also associated with ancient rites and culture. Halloween's Christian counterpoint, All Saints' Day (November 1), yields its own predictive power:”If All Saints'Day will bring out the winter, St. Martin's Day  November 11] will bring out Indian summer.”