The history of Groundhog Day

Why Americans count on a rodent to predict weather

Photo provided by www.yahoo.com

Megan Raynor, Staff Writer

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Each year on February 2nd in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, an unconventional tradition has been practiced since 1887. According to tradition, if “Phil” the groundhog comes out of his burrow and sees his shadow, then the groundhog returns to his burrow, which translates to six more weeks of winter; if he does not see his shadow then it marks the beginning of the spring season. While Groundhog Day is acknowledged throughout the United States, its true history is commonly unknown, as the American tradition’s origins are actually European.

Groundhogs are rodents that are also known as woodchucks. The critters begin to hibernate late in autumn, and then the male groundhogs surface in February to begin to search for a mate. The beliefs associated with the correlation of groundhogs and weather seems to stem from European traditions. According to www.groundhog.org/ , “The groundhog tradition stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe, and for centuries the custom was to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people. Even then, it marked a milestone in the winter and the weather that day was important.” The early Christian tradition spread to Germans who expanded on this concept through the idea that a hedgehog’s reaction on this day would be able to predict the weather for the future six weeks. As time progressed, German people began to migrate to the Americas and commonly settled in Pennsylvania. Despite the new setting, the tradition was still continued. However, it was adjusted to be practiced with the groundhog, which were plentiful at the time in Pennsylvania.

One hundred-thirty years later the tradition still ensues annually in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania featuring a groundhog directly related to the original rodent. According to http://www.history.com/, “In 1887, a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog. The line of groundhogs that have since been known as Phil might be America’s most famous groundhogs, but other towns across North America now have their own weather-predicting rodents, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck to Shubenacadie Sam in Canada.” Ultimately, Groundhog Day is a fun, lighthearted tradition that continues to be celebrated by Americans. However, we must be aware of the serious history behind the tradition as we allow a rodent to act as a meteorologist despite his 37% accuracy track record.

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