Origin of Groundhog Day (1)And the Groundhogs Say….?

Today is Groundhog Day.  After a cold December and January in the northern hemisphere, most of us are dying to know how much more frigid cold and snow-shovelling we have to look forward to.  I find it amusing that so many of us rely on a furry rodent for our portent of spring. Click To Tweet But then again, how often has the local news channel or the Farmer’s Almanac been dead wrong about the weather? Is the prediction

Groundhogs and Spring

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record of Punxsutawney Phil much worse? Weather forecasting models have a hard time accurately predicting weather in February due to a variety of factors. The Farmer’s Almanac was quite correct in its prediction of snowfall in the American East.  However, for my area of the world in Ontario, the Almanac predicted a colder than normal winter and cooler than normal spring.  We’ve had such a mild winter so far here that it was pretty near shorts weather for us Canadians at Christmas time.  My grass is still green now that the rain has washed away the snow and it is only the beginning of February.  A recent weather forecast predicted a warmer than normal February and March so we’ll soon see where the accuracy lies.

Today, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow.  Since 1988, the groundhog was “right” 13 times out of 28

times. In other words, 46% of the time the national average temperature for the rest of February matched what would be expected based on what the groundhog predicted.  If I was a betting girl, Phil would give me pretty good odds!

Punxsutawney Phil Anthony Quintano, CC BY 2.0, via WikiCommons

Punxsutawney Phil
Anthony Quintano, CC BY 2.0, via WikiCommons

However, here in Canada, two of our furry weather predictors have given opposing predictions – Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam is calling for an early spring while Ontario’s Wiarton Willie saw his shadow thus predicting six more weeks of winter.  I’d prefer to believe Phil and Sam 🙂 Why is Groundhog Day such a highly anticipated ritual in many parts of the United States and Canada? Why do so many of us want to believe in the 'magical' weather forecasting abilities of groundhogs? Click To Tweet Much of it has to do with our anticipation of brighter days and warmer temperatures and our dwindling delight with the cold and snow.  There are clues to our fascination with these rodents and portents of spring. Read on to discover some of the ancient and not so ancient history of Groundhog Day.

Origin of Groundhog Day

  • February 2 falls midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox
  • in ancient times, the pagan festival of Imbolc was celebrated by the Celts and marked the beginning of spring
  • Imbolc was also known as Brigid’s Day
  • Brigid is considered the goddess of fertility, representing light, regeneration and livestock.
  • Imbolc is thought to have given rise to the Catholic celebration of Candlemas where candles are blessed in honor of Jesus, considered the light of the world, and his presentation to God in the Temple
  • Both Imbolc and Candlemas herald the coming of spring where dark days give way to lighter more fertile ones

According to Groundhog Day legend, when the groundhog sees his shadow February 2, the sunny cold of the day signifies 40 days more of winter while if he does not see his shadow, the relatively milder, cloudy weather of the day suggests spring will be early.

  • It is thought that both of these festivals were early influences of Groundhog Day
  • In parts of Europe, Christians began to believe that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of winter
  • Germans adopted this legend adding their own flair by the belief that when animals like badgers saw their shadows (which would happen only on a cold, sunny day!) spring would be another 40 days away
  • migrating Germans to America brought this custom with them and as groundhogs were the abundant furry species, they were fit into the custom and groundhogs became the heralds of spring
  • February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania was the first official celebration of Groundhog Day in North America
  • local newspaper editor Clymer Freas was the brains behind the idea
  • today the proceedings are run by a group dignitaries known as the Inner Circle who wear top hats and speak in a Pennsylvania Dutch dialect
  • communication with Punxsutawney Phil is done in ‘groundhogese’
  • over ten thousand people visit the little town of 6000 to view the festivities made famous by the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray….so it is a prolific tourist attraction raking in a whole lot of cash for the community 😀
  • groundhogs are true hibernators greatly reducing their metabolic rate and temperatures and by February have typically lost half of their weight
    • I’m guessing that means they are just as disappointed if they see their shadow on February 2–another 40 days of winter means 40 more hungry days for the skinny woodchucks!

Do you believe in the magical, weather-predicting abilities of groundhogs?  Or do you just enjoy the fun, silly ritual and hope the little beast doesn’t see his shadow so you can convince yourself the cold weather will soon be gone?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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