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Early Spring or Six More Weeks: The History of Groundhog Day

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As we all know, it’s February! Not only does this month mark the celebration of Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, but it includes a holiday where a special rodent predicts the weather, otherwise known as Groundhog Day. But what exactly is Groundhog Day? Why does it always occur every February 2? What is the point of celebrating a day when an animal predicts if there’s either an early spring or long winter for six weeks? Well, to answer all your questions, here’s some history how Groundhog Day came to be a well-known holiday.

The holiday began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first Groundhog Day was adopted in the United States in 1887. It has its roots in an ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, which occurs on February 2. In this holiday, the clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter in order to determine how long winter would be celebrated on February 2. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting the hedgehog for predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehog to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the state.

How do we know if the groundhog sees its shadow or not? In order to answer this question, the groundhog predicts if it sees its shadow or not. If it does see its shadow and it’s sunny, then it returns to its burrow for six weeks of long winter. However, if it’s cloudy and the groundhog does not see its shadow, then spring would come early and the groundhog would come out of its burrow for search of food for the spring.
Groundhog Day is mainly celebrated in the US and Canada.

Not only had the holiday received widespread attention from the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day”, but it was widely recognized by the largest celebration held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, predicts whether or not he sees his shadow. A special group known for its dress code of top hats and tuxedos, called the Inner Circle, takes care of Phil and make the prediction for him. Punxsutawney Phil speaks a language known as Groundhogese, which only the Club President can understand to determine either the groundhog can see his shadow or not. But he’s not only groundhog observing the weather, there are several groundhogs in other states and parts of Canada that would tell their predictions. These such as Wiarton Willie from Ontario, Staten Island Chuck from New York, and Woodstock Willie from Chicago.

Groundhog Day has been passed by the Germans who came to Pennsylvania, then has been observed as one of the public holidays in the United States and Canada since 1887. Hopefully the groundhog right here in Madison will predict an early spring for us!

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Early Spring or Six More Weeks: The History of Groundhog Day