From candles to groundhogs

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Punxsutawney Phil pleased everyone when he predicted an early spring on last year’s Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day is a day where a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil predicts the future. Okay, I know what you are thinking – a groundhog predicts the future? But it is true! This day is an annual event and falls on February 2nd in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to old tales, if it is sunny when the Groundhog surfaces from his burrow, he will see his shadow and recede back into its burrow. If he does this, then that means winter-like weather will continue for six more weeks. However, if it is cloudy when the Groundhog emerges from his burrow and does not see his shadow, it is a sign that spring will come early.

The first Groundhog Day occurred on February 2, 1887 at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Believe it or not, Groundhogs were not always meteorologists. In ancient Christian tradition, Christian’s around the world celebrated Candlemas Day. On this day, clergymen would bless and hand out candles for winter. These candles supposedly represented how long the winter would be. Later on, Germans decided to expand on the idea of Candlemas Day by choosing an animal (the hedgehog) to predict the weather. When the Germans settlers came to America in the 1700’s, the settlers in Pennsylvania decided to continue on with the tradition. By this time, hedgehogs switched to groundhogs.

The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day is from February 4, 1841 from Morgantown, Pennsylvania. A storekeeper by the name of James Morris wrote in his diary, “…Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out 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.” There are also a few different sayings used from around the world to describe Groundhog Day.

According to the old English saying:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,

Winter has another flight.

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,

Winter will not come again.

 

From Germany:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,

So far will the snow swirl until May.

For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,

So far will the sun shine before May.

 

From Scotland:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,

There’ll be two winters in the year.

 

And lastly, from America:

 If the sun shines on Groundhog Day;

Half the fuel and half the hay.

Today, tens of thousands of people gather on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney every February 2nd to observe Phil’s prediction. The Groundhog Club also hosts a three day celebration with entertainment and activities. According to the Stormfax Almanac, Phil’s predictions have only been correct 39% of the time. Since 2000, Phil has seen his seen his shadow eleven out of thirteen times. With February 2nd just around the corner, mark your calendar to see if Phil will predict six more dreadful weeks of winter (we don’t need that!), or an early, sunny spring.