Upper Valley community observes ‘Hedgehog Day’

Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 3:31 PM EST
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WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Believe it or not, the Groundhog Day we know today, didn’t come about until the 1880s. And on this Groundhog Day, an Upper Valley school has its own take on the European tradition.

The tradition of using an animal to predict the weather goes back centuries in Europe. German settlers brought “Badger Day” to Pennsylvania -- but as the story goes -- realized just how many groundhogs were there and switched animals. While Punxsutawney Phil Thursday predicted six more weeks of winter, the prediction doesn’t mean much at The Wilder School, where they annually observe Hedgehog Day.

In what’s described as “Vermont’s best hedgehog event,” a crowd gathered in White River Junction to hear the fate of the forecast determined by local hedgehog, Winnie.

“We practiced three times yesterday,” said Roisin Viens, a program coordinator at The Wilder School and Winnie’s caretaker. In years past, Harley the hedgehog made the big forecast, but Harley passed last year. Viens says Winnie is on loan from a friend. “She said, ‘Would you like to see if Winnie will get up to speed to be your school hedgehog?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Up to speed, he was, as he made his way into a plastic igloo filled with food, determining what weather is to come -- in this case, six more weeks of winter. Master of Hedgehog Ceremonies Dan Rivers says the tradition is timeless. “I like to think of it something similar to Stonehenge, in terms that we don’t know exactly when it started, however, we appreciate the beauty that it brings to everyone,” he said.

The folks at The Wilder School take issue with the track record of the groundhog to the south. “Winnie’s been correct -- I think we’re going to be one-for-one here is my prediction. Scoring wise, if my math checks out, I think we and Winnie and our hedgehogs do much better than Punxatawney ‘The Punk’ Phil,” Rivers said, citing a 36% accuracy rate. “Punxatawney Phil, he’s historically inaccurate with his predictions. So, we’re looking at filing a civil lawsuit against him. We’re going to defamation, because of his false claims that have caused harm to folks around this great country.”

Legal counsel and student Dylan Schwarz says he doesn’t think they have the grounds for a lawsuit. And while he thinks Winnie did a good job, he’s not overly excited about his decision. “The cold doesn’t bother me, but I don’t like it because I can’t go and do hay like I normally do,” he said.

Despite that, Rivers is lobbying for statewide recognition, especially from Governor Phil Scott, who tweeted about Groundhog Day with a meme from “The Office.”

“And I’ll probably continue to tweet at Phil Scott in an effort for this to be recognized,” Rivers said.

After Winnie’s performance, we’re told there are some serious blanket snuggles in store, especially with cold weather ahead.