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The History of Groundhog Day

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This February 2nd marks the celebration of Groundhog Day. Thousands gather to Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the occasion, observed exclusively in North America. Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog or woodchuck, ascends from his winter hibernation to look for his shadow. As protocol, Winter will continue for six more weeks should Phil see his shadow; generally on a sunny day. But should he emerge and not see his shadow, commonly occurring on a cloudy day, then Spring is just around the corner.

The annual American festival was the brainchild of Clymer Freas, a newspaper editor, and Congressman W. Smith, who was also a newspaper publisher. The tradition originates from a European holiday 'Candlemas', commemorating the Purification of the Virgin Mary. Like Groundhog Day, it was celebrated on February 2 and utilizes candles as a blessing. Germans incorporated the hedgehog as part of its folklore. They claimed that when the hedgehog emerged on Candlemas and saw its shadow, it would be scared and retreat to its hole in the ground, thus concluding that winter would last another six weeks. From that, German settlers came to Pennsylvania and adopted the groundhog as its weather forecaster.

Since 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 96 times. On 14 occasions, he did not see his shadow. For nine years, there were no recordings of Phil's observations. The last time Phil did not see his shadow was 1999.

Similar events are held in other states, though Pennsylvanians are staunch in proclaiming Phil as the only animal who can predict the weather. North of the border, Canada has a similar celebration to forecast how much longer their winter will last. Their groundhog goes by the name of Wiarton Willy.

Groundhog Day Celebrated February 2.

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