Groundhog Day history: How the superstitious tradition made it to the US

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Groundhog Day history: How the superstitious tradition made it to the US

[ad_1] Since 1887, Groundhog Day has been a beloved American celebration where seasonal weather predictions are left in the hands of a groundhog.The

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Since 1887, Groundhog Day has been a beloved American celebration where seasonal weather predictions are left in the hands of a groundhog.

The superstitious observance began in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania – where Punxsutawney Phil got his name and start as a rodent meteorologist. Each year on Feb. 2, thousands of spectators travel to the small town and gather at Gobbler’s Knob park to view Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction in real time.

If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow at daybreak and runs away, tradition dictates that he’s predicted that there will be six more weeks of winter. If there’s no shadow, he’s predicted that spring will arrive early.

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The annual weather prediction ceremony is hosted by the Groundhog Club Inner Circle, a group of local dignitaries who care for Punxsutawney Phil and help arrange special festivities. Club members work “to protect and perpetuate the legend of the great weather-predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil,” according to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s website.

While the quirky day got its start in the late 19th century, historians believe Groundhog Day stems from Candlemas – a Christian holiday that dates back to the fourth century AD. Throughout Europe, observers of Candlemas would take candles to local churches for winter blessings.

Surviving records show that the idea of weather-predicting animals was introduced during Candlemas festivities held in Germany. These animals included badgers, hedgehogs, bears and foxes.

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Dutch groups who migrated to Pennsylvania adopted the lore of weather-predicting badgers and hedgehogs. It appears that over time, the lore shifted to include groundhogs due to Pennsylvania’s limited badger population and lack of native hedgehogs. 

Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog, during the 134th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog, during the 134th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
(AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Groundhogs – also known as woodchucks – are one of the Keystone State’s “most widely distributed mammals,” according to the Penn State Extension College of Agricultural Sciences. 

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A preserved diary entry from Morgantown storekeeper James Morris is one of the earliest recordings of groundhog weather predictors. His handwritten note, which is held by the Historical Society of Berks County in Reading, Pennsylvania, dates back to Feb. 4, 1841.

The diary entry says, “Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas Day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks’ nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

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Although Groundhog Day is a fun annual pastime in the U.S., meteorologists at the National Weather Service State College recommend folks get their weather forecasts from trained professionals.

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