Groundhog Day is coming up. We'll wait patiently until the little critter pops out of his burrow to see what kind of weather we'll have in the coming weeks. How did this tradition begin?
Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada is celebrated every year on February 2, and has been since 1887, but its origins go back centuries.
The 2nd of February marks the mid-point between winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) and spring solstice (when the days and nights are about the same length.)
Going back to Celtic traditions, the story evolved from tales of the goddess Cailleach. If she wanted a long winter, the day would be bright and sunny-so she could gather firewood to keep her warm for the wintry weather to come. If the day was dreary, she would stay indoors. It was a sign that spring was coming soon.
Early Christians adopted the tradition by blessing and giving out candles, a festival known as Candlemas.
Where did the groundhog come in?
In Germany, people began to watch the hibernating habits of a burrowing animal, the hedgehog! Out in nature, hedgehogs hibernate from about October or November to about March or April.
German tradition was to see if the hedgehog saw its shadow during the celebration of Candlemas. A sunny day meant the little critter would see its shadow, run to hide in its burrow, and that meant winter wasn’t done yet.
Early immigrants from Germany brought their weather prediction methods with them as they settled in Pennsylvania. Except for one problem. There weren’t any hedgehogs!
Their substitute was a groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, of which there were plenty, and can be found all over in Canada, in the United States from Minnesota to Mississippi to Maine. They can even be found in Alaska.
Just what is a groundhog?
Groundhogs are one of 14 species of rodents called marmots. Reaching up to over 2 feet in length and weighing up to 14 pounds, they’re the largest member of the squirrel family!
These critters feast on plants and vegetables during the spring and summer, and once the first frost comes, they tuck themselves away in their burrows to hibernate until spring.
A New Tradition Is Born
In February of 1886, a newspaper editor for the Punxsutawney Spirit, by the name of Clymer Freas, got a group of business men to hike out to a place called Gobbler’s Knob in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. They were to find a groundhog burrow and watch it to see if the little animal came out or not.
As the story goes, the groundhog came out, saw his shadow, tucked back into his burrow. Six more weeks of winter was predicted…and it marked the beginning of a tradition.
In 1887, Groundhog Day became an official day on the calendar. And that groundhog from Pennsylvania became famous.
He is known everywhere as Punxsutawney Phil. Now, there are live broadcasts of the festivities surrounding Phil. He has his own website. You can even sign up to get a text from Phil on Groundhog Day about his prediction for the rest of the season!
Just how accurate is a groundhog?
Studies done by climate and weather services in the United States and Canada have shown that Phil has pretty bad track record for predicting the weather. Since the start, he’s only been right about 39% of the time.
It’s still a fun annual celebration that means winter is almost over.
Does anyone else have a Groundhog Day?
The only countries who celebrate Groundhog Day are the United States and Canada.
But in Croatia and Serbia, they have a similar tradition on Candlemas, only they watch for a bear to wake from hibernation.
If the sleepy bear meets with his shadow when he comes out of his cave, he will be scared and head back inside for 40 more days.
It's All About Waiting For Spring
Spring is an important time all over the world. It’s the growing season! It’s when everything begins to come out winter hibernation. Bugs and plants and animals and amphibians all wake up!
Another "waiting for waking" event takes place in China during the period called Jing Zhe, or the Awakening of Insects. It happens during the month of March and lasts for about 14 days.
The tradition says the thunderclaps of spring rain wake up the insects, and everything else. It’s a time when the farmers will begin to plow their fields to get ready for spring planting.
While we know of only a few countries who watch hibernating animals to see what the upcoming season will be like, there are plenty who celebrate the changing seasons.
What signs do you notice to tell you spring is on the way?
Fun Foods For Groundhog Day
A traditional food for Groundhog Day is pancakes! Mix up a batch of your favorite pancakes and try to create shapes in the pan resembling groundhogs.
Make a dirt pie! Crush chocolate and cream cookies to make the crust, fill with flavored whipped cream, and top with more crushed cookies. Add pretzels for twigs, hard candies for stones, and a groundhog toy looking around for his shadow!
You can also enjoy the taste of the area around where Punxsutawney Phil lives in our USA North box.
The world is exciting when you choose your own adventure with eat2explore!