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Flashback Friday: Groundhog Day

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The first Groundhog Day was on Feb. 2, 1887. Tradition says that if the groundhog comes out of his hole and sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter; if he does not see his shadow, then there will be an early spring.

This holiday came about from the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day. Clergy would bring candles to those who needed them and bless them in the process. The candles would represent how long and cold winter would be. Germany expanded on the idea by selecting the hedgehog to predict the weather, but when they came to America, German settlers switched the animal from hedgehogs to groundhogs to continue the tradition because of their abundance in Pennsylvania.

Groundhogs are also called woodchucks in some areas, but their scientific name is Marmota monax. They are about 12 to 15 pounds and only live six to eight years. They whistle when they are scared or looking for a mate and can climb trees as well as swim. Their diet consists of vegetables and fruits, and they go into hibernation in late fall, during which, their heartbeat drops from 80 beats per minute to five beats per minute. In February, male groundhogs come out from underground to look for a mate before they come completely out of hibernation in March. So, no, they do not come out of hibernation to check the weather.

In 1887, an editor that was friends with a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania called the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club,” said that Phil would be the only true weather-forecasting groundhog in America. There have been many other famous weather-forecasting groundhogs across North America, such as Birmingham Bill, Staten Island Chuck, and, in Canada, Shubenacadie Sam.

Phil’s popularity has inspired songs and movies revolving around this day. In elementary and middle schools across America, there are weeks dedicated to the scientific and social aspects of Groundhog Day. After Phil predicts the forecast, people have parties celebrating an early spring, or parties to cheer themselves up if he predicts a longer winter.

On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. His prediction happened around 7:30am in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania when temperatures were in the 20s. On Phil’s website, it says that his prediction is correct 100% of the time. This website also says that there has only been one “Phil” over the past 125 years. So, take off your jackets because if you trust a furry rodent meteorologist and his reputable website, it means that spring is coming early this year!