Groundhog Day, February 2 of each year when, according to tradition, the groundhog leaves the burrow where it has been hibernating to discover whether cold winter weather will continue. If the groundhog cannot see its shadow, it presumably remains above ground, ending its hibernation. But if its shadow is visible—that is, if the sun is shining—six more weeks of cold weather will follow, and the animal returns to its burrow. There is no scientific evidence for this belief.
II PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL
The most famous forecaster of spring is Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog who makes his predictions in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. No one is quite sure how he gained his fame, but townspeople claim his predictions have been extraordinarily accurate. Every February 2, thousands of people gather in Punxsutawney to await the groundhog’s verdict. Other cities also have designated official groundhogs.
III AN ANCIENT TRADITION
The idea that animals can predict weather has a long history, probably associated with the sowing of crops. If seeds were sown too early and harsh weather followed, the crops would be poor. In Germany the badger was associated with weather predictions; in France and Britain, the bear. German and English immigrants probably brought these beliefs to the American colonies. Groundhogs were plentiful in the colonies, and replaced the European animals in American tradition.
For Christians February 2 is Candlemas Day, a festival that celebrates the presentation of Christ in the Temple. Candlemas replaced a pagan candlelight ceremony celebrating the return of light (longer days) and the reinvigoration of the fields. British rhymes incorporate the belief that the weather on Candlemas Day indicates the weather of coming weeks.
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.