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Digging deeper into Groundhog Day

Caroline J. Campbell
Associate Features Editor

It is Groundhog Day. Flashes of the camera, the plump mammal emerges—or more like is pulled from its home and hibernation. Media reporters and spectators gather around and wait for the verdict: Will it be spring or six more weeks of winter?

In the German culture, hedgehogs were used instead of groundhogs.
In the German culture, hedgehogs were used instead of groundhogs. (Photo Courtesy of Commons.WikiMedia.org)

On Feb. 2 every year, Punxsutawney Phil predicts the changes of weather in the seasons. If it sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. But the question is who entrusted such an important responsibility to a groundhog—which is also known as a whistlepig?

According to The History Channel, Groundhog Day originates from the Christian tradition of Candlemas, where clergy would distribute candles for winter. The candles represented how long winter would be. The Germans put a spin on this tradition and used a hedgehog instead to make this determination. When the German settlers came to America, they replaced the hedgehog with the groundhog, because groundhogs were easily found in Pennsylvania.

Then, in 1887, a newspaper editor declared Phil the groundhog of Punxsutawney as the official weather-predicting groundhog. The name stuck and has been carried through the groundhog lineage. However, this tradition carried over to other states and countries. There is Birmingham Bill, the Staten Island groundhog, and Shubenacadie Sam, the Canadian groundhog.

The annual emergence of Phil is surrounded by three days of festivities including breakfast with Phil, the crowning of Little Mr. & Mrs. Groundhog, the Groundhog Ball, and various education opportunities to learn about groundhogs and the weather.