Groundhog Day: How a groundhog came to predict the weather

Groundhog Day: How a groundhog came to predict the weather

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - February 2 is the day people all across America anxiously wait for a groundhog to emerge from it's burrow to lend a clue as to the remaining winter season.

As legend has it, if the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, but if he doesn't,spring is on the way.

Every year, throngs of people and camera crews from across the country gather a Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the home of the nation's most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, to capture the moment the groundhog emerges and whether he sees his shadow or not. It's a tradition that began 1887 in that sleepy little Pennsylvania town and continues one of the biggest celebrations of the winter season.

But how did a groundhog come to predict the weather? The story is not so far fetched.

The beginning of February holds a special place in human history. It marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and was celebrated by Pagans with a festival of light.

Early Christians created an adaptation of the festival with candles on February 2 calling it Candlemas Day, a fest falling 40 days after Christmas.

This also coincided with the Jewish tradition of a mother and her newborn being presented in the Temple for the first time 40 days after birth which is considered the day Jesus would have been presented. There is even an old English song that connects Candlemas Day with the weather:

"If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, winter will not come again."

There is even a Gaelic legend that connects the day with the length of the season.  It states that if the goddess Caillech wanted a long winter, she'd make the day bright, so she would have plenty of light to gather more wood for the rest of the season, but if the day was dreary, she stayed inside because spring was on the way.

But. it was the Europeans who connected the hibernation patterns of animals and Candlemas Day to give a prediction as to the coming season. Some Europeans looked for bears to emerge from their dens. The French looked to the marmot, and the English came to rely on the hedgehog.

Germans would wait for the badger to emerge. Their legend stated that if there was snow, it would come out of its hole, but if there were sunshine it would retreat back inside.

In America, the Pennsylvania Dutch adopted the German tradition but came to rely on the groundhog simply because they were common inhabitants of the area. And that tradition continues today in what we call Groundhog Day.

So we standby and wait for Punxsutawney Phil to emerge from his burrow to tell us if spring is near or there's more of winter to come.  And just FYI, according to Stormfax, the groundhog has been accurate 39% of the time over the years.

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