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Groundhog Day: a history

| Monday, February 2, 2015

groundhog-graphic-WEBKeri O'Mara

With Sunday’s Super Bowl excitement, it was easy to forget that Groundhog Day fell on Monday. Unfortunately, the shadow of last night’s game wasn’t the only shadow that Punxsutawney Phil faced this week.

Early Monday morning, thousands gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to get a look at the furry meteorologist and see his predictions for the next six weeks’ forecast.

Around 7:25 a.m., Phil awoke to thousands of spectators eagerly waiting his forecast. His reaction? Avoid the thousands of onlookers and sub-zero temperatures to head back to bed. This decision would seem rational with or without the presence of a shadow. Whether influenced by his shadow or not, Phil’s decision was clear — six more weeks of winter.

If you’re currently in denial at the thought of six more weeks of snow and thinking “Where did this crazy tradition come from? Who let the groundhog decide?” you’re not alone. However, with an 80 percent accuracy rating according to AccuWeather and a long history of prognosticating, there is evidence that Phil might be more than just a bashful, lazy groundhog.

The Groundhog Day tradition stems from a Germanic tradition called Candlemas. In this Germanic tradition, a hedgehog would predict the weather for the coming months. However, according to National Geographic, when German immigrants came to Pennsylvania, they were unable to find hedgehogs and opted for the next best thing — groundhogs.

The timing of Candlemas also favored using a groundhog to predict the weather. According to Nat Geo, groundhogs typically emerge from hibernation during February to look for mates in the spring. After the males and females have paired off, they return to hibernation for a few more weeks.

Since this hibernation hiatus occurs at the beginning of February, it is theorized that the Pennsylvania Dutch saw many groundhogs and chose them as the hedgehog replacement.

Despite the uncertainty behind the history of Groundhog Day, Phil’s decision seems to be indisputable, at least to those in Punxsutawney. Whether you believe that Phil really saw his shadow, was simply looking for a lady groundhog or was just avoiding all those eager onlookers, something made him jump back into his climate-controlled, man-made burrow. And you know what that means, six more weeks of winter. Thanks a lot Phil.

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