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Groundhog Day

Taking place almost halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, Groundhog Day is an annual event when groundhogs are brought outside and are observed to see if they see their shadow or not. If they see their shadow, it is said that there will be six more weeks of winter. If they do not, it means the weather will be mild in the upcoming weeks, and spring will come early.

In the past, days with similar meanings and celebrations have been held on or around the same time. The Celts celebrated Imbolc, a religious festival that anticipated the coming of spring, the birth of farm animals, and the planting of crops. The Christian festival Candlemas takes place on the same day. Some European Christians believed that if it was sunny on the day it meant there would be forty more days of winter.

In Germany during the Middle Ages, a belief came about that animals such as bears and badgers would wake up from their hibernation and appear, foretelling what the rest of winter would be like, similarly to how Groundhog Day is celebrated today. The idea on the day stems from the following: Animals have the possibility of seeing their shadows if it is sunny out. When it is sunny in the winter, the air is usually colder and drier.

Although sunniness may be a good indicator of how the weather is on any given winter day, it does not necessarily predict how the weather will be over the next six weeks. Nonetheless, the German tradition was brought to the United States by immigrants. In Pennsylvania, the badger was replaced by the groundhog, a marmot in the squirrel family that is also known as a woodchuck, which spends its winters in hibernation.

On February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the first official Groundhog Day was held and was marked by the appearance of a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil. Legend has it that he is now over 130 years old, and has remained alive because he drinks a magical punch in the summer. This seems far fetched, as groundhogs in captivity usually live about ten years. The day was thought up by Clymer Freas, an editor of a local newspaper, who got businessmen and groundhog hunters to go along with the idea. They gathered at Gobbler's Knob and Phil saw his shadow.

Punxsutawney Phil's appearance has become a media event, and he is the most viewed groundhog on the day. Tens of thousands of people come to the city, where only about 6,000 people reside. A group called the Inner Circle, which wears top hats and speaks in Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, conducts the ceremony. The president of the Inner Circle speaks to Phil in "Groundhogese," which only he can understand. Although organizers of the day say Phil is never wrong, the records show that he has only been right about forty percent of the time with his predictions.

Many other cities across the United States and Canada hold similar events on the day. Another prominent groundhog is Staten Island Chuck. Sometimes other animals besides groundhogs are used as well. No matter where people are on the day, they keep watching for animals and their shadows, hoping that winter will soon end.

How to Observe

The best way to celebrate the day is to travel to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and see if Phil sees his shadow or not. If you can't travel there, check to see if there are any events in your community. Many cities across the country host Groundhog Day events. Events are often held at zoos, where sometimes other animals besides groundhogs are used. Undoubtedly, it is also a good day to watch Groundhog Day.

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