Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Groundhog Day

It's Groundhog Day! Will Phil see his shadow? Six more weeks of Winter or is Spring just around the corner? The groundhog will be making his 130th prognostication at around 7:25 a.m.

Tuesday morning in Pennsylvania Punxsutawney Phil—arguably the world’s most famous groundhog will emerge from his burrow to predict whether or not we have 6 more weeks of winter or if spring is here!

The History behind Groundhog Day
Falling midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, February 2 is a significant day in several ancient and modern traditions. The Celts, for instance, celebrated it as Imbolc, a pagan festival marking the beginning of spring. As Christianity spread through Europe, Imbolc evolved into Candlemas, a feast commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the holy temple in Jerusalem. In certain parts of Europe, Christians believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold and snow. Germans developed their own take on the legend, pronouncing the day sunny only if badgers and other animals glimpsed their own shadows. When German immigrants settled Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought the custom with them, choosing the native groundhog as the annual forecaster.

The first official Groundhog Day celebration took place on February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It was the brainchild of local newspaper editor Clymer Freas, who sold a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters—known collectively as the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. The event is held at Gobbler’s Knob, where the inaugural groundhog became the bearer of bad news when he saw his shadow.

A photo from the movie Groundhog Day featuring Bill Murray.

The yearly festivities in Punxsutawney are presided over by a band of local dignitaries known as the "Inner Circle." Its members wear top hats and conduct the official proceedings in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. They supposedly speak to the groundhog in “Groundhogese.” Every February 2, tens of thousands of spectators attend Groundhog Day events in Punxsutawney, a borough that is home to 6,000 people. It was immortalized in the 1993 film “Groundhog Day,” which was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois.

Bill Murray made Groundhog Day in 1993.

While sunny winter days are associated with colder, drier air, we probably shouldn’t trade in our weathermen for groundhogs. Recent studies by the National Climatic Data Center and the Canadian weather service have yielded success rates of less than 40%.

For the last 30 years, residents of Vermillion, Ohio, have turned to a very different creature for their annual weather forecast: the wooly bear caterpillar. According to tradition, if the insects have more orange than black coloring, the upcoming winter will be mild. More than 100,000 people attend the town’s Wollybear Festival, held every fall since 1972.
Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks.

Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks. They belong to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. They grow up to 25 inches long and can live for 10 years in captivity. (According to legend, Punxsutawney Phil is more than 125 years old thanks to the magical punch he imbibes every summer.) Groundhogs spend the winter hibernating in their burrows, significantly reducing their metabolic rate and body temperature; by February, they can lose as much as half their weight. When they’re out and about, they eat succulents, berries and insects—and they don’t mind helping themselves to garden vegetables or other crops.

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