Groundhog Day – Will Punxsutawney Phil See His Shadow?
Groundhog Day began back in 1886 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Groundhog Day or Groundhog’s Day is a traditional holiday which is celebrated in the United States and Canada on February 2nd of each year, four days before the cross-quarter day between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
The traditional weather lore says that if a groundhog comes out of his burrow on Groundhog Day and can’t see his shadow, because of cloudy weather, then winter will soon end. However, if the groundhog is able to see his shadow, due to clear sunny weather, he will be frightened by the bright and run back into his den, meaning that winter will continue for six more weeks.
The groundhog is a member of the rodent family and belongs to a large group of ground squirrels known as marmots.
History tells us that as far back as the fifth century the European Celts believed that certain animals had super-natural powers on the special day’s half-way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. They believed that if bears and groundhogs came out of their winter dens too early that they were frightened by their own shadow and went back into their dens for four to six more weeks of hibernation.
The earliest known American reference to Groundhog Day is February 4, 1841 and took place in Morgantown, Pennsylvania. In storekeeper James Morris’ diary he wrote; “Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas Day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps our 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.”
In the United States, the tradition of Groundhog Day comes from a famous Scottish poem:
As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas Day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas Day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop.
The celebration of Groundhog Day began in Pennsylvania and the town of Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day in the 1800s. It was begun out of humor and has continued to this day. Every year on February 2nd, their groundhog, known as Punxsutawney Phil comes out of his den and predicts the weather. If Phil cannot see his shadow then winter will be six weeks longer, however if he is unable to see his shadow then spring will begin.
It is said that the weather predictions of Phil are more than 50% accurate, though the residents of Punxsutawney say that he is 100% accurate, of course.
While Groundhog Day seems like a rather weird holiday to many, it is simply a fun and quirky way to look at weather. Many school children have fun with the day and get to learn about weather and even groundhogs themselves at the same time. They often learn about hibernation as well as the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. So, while the holiday is a bit odd, it is built from strong tradition and meant to educate and entertain at the same time.
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