why do we have ground hog day
1887 On this day in 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring. Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal the hedgehog as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.
Groundhogs, also called woodchucks and whose scientific name is Marmota monax, typically weigh 12 to 15 pounds and live six to eight years. They eat vegetables and fruits, whistle when they re frightened or looking for a mate and can climb trees and swim. They go into hibernation in the late fall; during this time, their body temperatures drop significantly, their heartbeats slow from 80 to five beats per minute and they can lose 30 percent of their body fat. In February, male groundhogs emerge from their burrows to look for a mate (not to predict the weather) before going underground again. They come out of hibernation for good in March. 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. In 1993, the movie
Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray popularized the usage of groundhog day to mean something that is repeated over and over. Today, tens of thousands of people converge on Gobbler s Knob in Punxsutawney each February 2 to witness Phil s prediction. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club hosts a three-day celebration featuring entertainment and activities. The Adventures of Punxsutawney Phil, Wiarton Willie, and Pothole Pete February 2 brings the most-watched weather forecast of the year and the only one led by a rodent.
Legend has it that on this morning, if a groundhog can see its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it cannot see its shadow, spring is on the way. Why the Groundhog? Since a groundhog (or or "whistle pig") hibernates for the winter, its coming out of the ground is a natural sign of spring. In Europe centuries ago, people watched for other hibernating animals, including badgers, bears, and hedgehogs, as signs of winter's end. Germans who immigrated to in the mid-1800s began keeping an eye on the groundhog. The widespread population of the rodent made it a handy agent for this particular weather superstition. And a superstition it is. But there's a grain of truth: the winter days when you can see your shadow clearly are often especially cold, because there are no clouds overhead to insulate the earth.
Why now? Early February is midway between the and the. Throughout history numerous holidays have marked this seasonal crossroads. Among these is Day, February 2, a Christian holiday that celebrates Mary's ritual purification. Early Christians believed that if the sun came out on Candlemas Day, winter would last for six weeks more. The ancient Romans observed a mid-season festival on February 5, and the pagan Irish celebrated one around February 1. In many parts of Europe early February might herald the start of spring, when crops could be planted. In the 1880s some friends in Punxsutawney, Penn. , went into the woods on Candlemas Day to look for groundhogs. This outing became a tradition, and a local newspaper editor nicknamed the seekers "the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. " Starting in 1887 the search became an official event centered on a groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil.
A ceremony still takes place every year. Today Punxsutawney Phil lives in a climate-controlled habitat adjoining the Punxsutawney Library. A local celebrity, he gained national fame in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day (which was shot in scenic Woodstock, ). The weather-watching rodent's predictions are recorded in the Congressional Records of our National Archive. So far, Phil has seen his shadow about 85% of the time. Canada's Groundhog Day relies on the predictions of an albino groundhog named Wiarton Willie. Although Punxsutawney Phil gets the most attention, various American cities have their own special groundhogs; New York City's official groundhog is called "Pothole Pete. "
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