Groundhog Day is a fun holiday to look forward to. A chubby brown critter gets his day in the spotlight every February 2nd.
As the story goes, if it is sunny and clear, there is six more weeks of winter. Spring would come early if it was cloudy.
So how did this tradition get started?
Here are interesting facts about Groundhog Day that you may not have known.
The original holiday from Germany was Candlemas, also celebrated on February 2nd. Early European Christians believed that if the sun came out on this holiday, there would be six more weeks of winter.
An old English rhyme helps us to remember:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
Candlemas, or the Blessing of the Candles, is one of the oldest feasts of the Christian church. It occurs 40 days after December 25 – Christmas Day – and marks the end of the Christmas season. It is also the meeting of the Christ child in the temple.
It is celebrated a little differently in various regions of the world.
Here are some traditions:
- Crepes, the delicate golden sweet pancake, are a traditional food in Belgium, France and Swiss Romandy. It is thought to have the likeness of a of a solar disc, meaning the return of Spring after the darkness of winter. All candles in the house should be lit.
- In Mexico, the day is celebrated with adoration of the Christ Child with richly decorated clothes and brought to the church to be blessed. Afterwards, the entire family is invited to a meal of Tamales.
- One of the largest cultural festivals in Peru celebrates the Virgin of Candelaria. It is one of the three largest festivals in South America, the others being Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and in Bolivia, Carnaval de Oruro. Music, dancing and elaborate costumes are at the core of the festivals. Thousands of people are involved as participants, organizers, musicians, and costume makers.
So how did a Christian holiday turn into a celebration of Groundhogs?
Germans settled into Pennsylvania in the 1880’s. Many of them were farmers. In Germany, they relied on a hedgehog to help them with the weather, since they didn’t have TV’s or satellites.
They adapted to the tradition when they arrived in the United States. They used the Groundhog, commonly found in PA and the northeast, as their weather prognisticator.
- Ever since the debut of the movie, upwards of 30,000 people would gather in the small town of Punxsutawney, located about 1.5 hrs northeast of Pittsburgh, PA, for the annual celebration.
- You can visit Phil in his burrow- he lives at the Public Library. The town is also decorated with 32 artistic larger than life Groundhogs lining the streets of the town.
Phil is not the only famous Groundhog. Other famous Groundhogs include:
- Staten Island Chuck, also known as Charles. G. Hogg, resides at the Staten Island Zoo in New York. My favorite memory is when the ex-Mayor of New York (Mike Bloomberg) stuck his hand in the cage – and got bitten. Don’t mess with the Groundhog!
- Jimmy The Groundhog is from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. In 2016, he also bit the Mayor, who thought it would be cute for the Groundhog to whisper in his ear. Wrong!
- Chatanooga Chuck lives at the Tennesee Aquarium
- General Beauregard Lee, from Jackson, Georgia, makes home at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.
- Thistle the Whistlepig hails from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
- Stonewall Jackson VIII* from Space Farms Zoo and Museum is a resident of Sussex County, New Jersey. *There have been several generations of Stonewall Jackson, I think they’re up to eight.
A couple of cute Groundhog kits outside the shed on a sunny Spring morning.
Other names for a Groundhog include Woodchuck, which some believe have origins from the Algonquin name of Wuchak. They are also known as Whistle Pigs, Ground Squirrel and Gopher. They are from the Marmot family, Marmota Monax is their scientific name.
Groundhogs have skills.
- They are powerful tunnelers, digging complex tunnels over 30 feet long with multiple entryways and chambers. All that digging equates to about 700 pounds of dirt. They can also climb trees and swim.
- They also have little stumps on their from paws, like thumbs, which allow them to hold and manipulate objects.
- Voracious herbivores with an occasional sprinkle of grasshopper, they seem to eat constantly. They especially love grasses – and gardens – one of the main reasons gardeners and farmers try to eradicate them.
- Their large tunnel systems can also do extensive damage to property, especially near sheds where they can easily burrow. Lawn tractors and equipment can get stuck if they do not maneuver carefully.
Groundhog Kit with Mama
More Groundhog facts:
- Groundhogs weigh between 9-15 pounds, but put on a lot of extra weight in the fall to prepare for hibernation.
- They’re an average of 20 inches long with a big bushy 6-inch tail.
- They live up to 6 years old, but since they love to forage near the edge of the road, they also get hit by vehicles.
- Other major predators include fox, coyotes, raccoons and dogs.
- They have a litter of 4 to 9 kits or cubs. The kits open their eyes at 4 weeks old and don’t leave the den until almost 7 weeks old.
Watch a cute video about Groundhogs:
How accurate is Phil?
About as accurate as most other weather predictors, about 40% of the time, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NOAA).
Finally, Groundhogs know when winter is over.
After their long hibernation, they emerge in early spring to look for a mate. As the weather becomes more seasonal, they appear more often.
What is something you didn’t know about the Groundhog? Let us know in the comments below.
If you can relate to the Groundhog or know someone who doesn’t like winter, consider getting one of these fun t-shirts.
The Groundhog is wearing a blue or red beanie hat, with the words, “Wake Me Up When Winter is Over”. It’s fun to wear all winter long! Get yours today on Amazon $14.99 – you’ve got six more weeks!
Some other designs to consider for Valentine’s Day and St. Patricks Day:
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