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February 2, 2010 / Dave Gorham

The Story of Groundhog Day

Have you ever wondered where, when or why Groundhog Day came about?

The tradition of Groundhog Day has its origin in ancient European weather lore and is tied to Candlemas Day, a centuries-old celebration day in Europe. Candlemas, for the British, marks midwinter and a time of seasonal transition. Folklore states: “If the day is bright and clear there will be two winters in the year.”

Germans began trying to predict how long winter would continue based on the hibernation patterns of a badger or sacred bear in the later part of winter. When some Germans settled in Pennsylvania in the mid to late 18th century they switched from bears to groundhogs – which also hibernate. The settlers found that groundhogs were plentiful and were the most intelligent and sensible animal to carry on the legend of Candlemas Day.

Punxsutawney is located in Western Pennsylvania, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh and was first settled by the Delaware Indians in 1723.

Punxsutawney Phil is actually the shortened version of his official title which is, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.” The groundhog got his name from the editor of The Punxsutawney Spirit Newspaper.

Locals claim that Punxsutawney Phil is more than 100 years old. Most of his time is spent relaxing in a climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library. On Groundhog Day he is taken to Gobbler’s Knob, waits in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump and is then pulled out at 7:25am to give us his weather prediction. Not a bad life for a groundhog!

Jason Cohn / Reuters

Last week we blogged about PETA wanting to replace the groundhog with a robot; their wish wasn’t granted this year. At Gobbler’s Knob this morning, Punxsutawney Phil emerged and saw his shadow, meaning 6 more weeks of winter.

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