RISMEDIA, Feb. 2, 2007-Groundhog Day is a tradition, celebrated in the United States and Canada each year on February 2. It is midway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. In traditional weather lore, if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If the groundhog sees its shadow because the weather is bright and clear, it will be frightened and run back into its hole, and the winter will continue for six more weeks.
So just how did this quirky holiday begin? Around the fifth century, the European Celts believed that animals had certain supernatural powers on special days that were half-way between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Folklore from Germany and France indicated that when marmots and bears came out of their winter dens too early, they were frightened by their shadow and retreated back inside for four to six weeks.
Some fun facts about groundhogs and this day include:
– The celebration of Groundhog Day began with Pennsylvania's earliest settlers. They brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day, which states, "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May…"
– The average groundhog is 20 inches long and normally weighs from 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds and is 22 inches long.
– Groundhogs are covered with coarse grayish hairs (fur) tipped with brown or sometimes dull red. They have short ears, a short tail, short legs, and are surprisingly quick. Their jaws are exceptionally strong.
– A groundhog's diet consists of lots of greens, fruits, and vegetables and very little water. Most of their liquids come from dewy leaves.
– A groundhog's life span is normally 6 to 8 years.
– The earliest known American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Historical Society of Berks County in Reading, Pennyslvania. The reference was made Feb. 4, 1841 in Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary: "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."
– Assuming that the equinox marked the first day of spring in certain medieval cultures, as it does now in western countries, Groundhog Day occurred exactly six weeks before spring. Therefore, if the groundhog saw his shadow on Groundhog Day there would be six more weeks of winter. If he didn't, there would be 42 more days of winter. In other words, the Groundhog Day tradition may have begun as a bit of folk humor.
– Some ancient traditions marked the change of season at cross-quarter days when daylight first makes significant progress against the night. Other traditions held that Spring did not begin until the length of daylight overtook night at the Vernal Equinox. So an arbiter, the groundhog / hedgehog, was incorporated as a yearly custom to settle two traditions.