On February 2 we will be watching a furry friend to forecast the weather. It is up to Punxsutawney Phil to let us know if spring is on the way, or if winter will be with us for awhile yet. And how will Phil be able to tell if spring is on the way? If he comes out of his burrow into the bright sunshine and sees his own shadow, he’ll scurry back underground again. Then we can expect six more weeks of winter. If the day is cloudy, and Phil doesn’t see his shadow then spring is on its way!
Image courtesy of Philip G. DeLoach.
A groundhog predicting the weather! How did this all start?
Since 1887, the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club in Pennsylvania have watched for the first appearance of Phil. In the mid 18th century German immigrants brought the tradition of watching for the groundhog to the United States. These early settlers to Pennsylvania decided that the groundhog was a very intelligent animal, the settlers thought that if the sun did appear on February 2nd, the wise groundhog would see his shadow and hurry back into his burrow for another six weeks of winter.
Even before Phil became a celebrity February 2 was a holiday. A very old holiday, which is based on astronomy. February 2 is about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In England, this day is celebrated as Candlemas Day.
"If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another fight. But be it dark with clouds and rain, winter is gone and will not come again."
- Old English Rhyme -
On Candlemas Day in Germany there is another saying, "A shepherd would rather see a wolf enter his stable on Candlemas Day than see the sun shine." It is said that a German badger would watch for his shadow.
Is the groundhog always right? Not exactly, the National Geographic Society did a study and found he was correct only one out of three times. It still is fun to wait for Phil and see what he does and celebrate old traditions of long ago.