Amazing Kids! Magazine

Groundhog Day – an Interesting Holiday that Predicts the Weather

By Sean Traynor, Editorial Adviser and Contributing Writer


Groundhog Day is a holiday known by most everyone in the United States but celebrated mainly in New York and Pennsylvania on February 2.  The belief says that if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, spring will come early. If the groundhog sees its shadow, it will return into its burrow, and winter will continue for 6 more weeks. If you are in the United States on this day and listen to the weather report, you will hear reporters in every state talking about the groundhog sightings.

The groundhog is a rodent that belongs to the group of large ground squirrels. It is also known as a woodchuck, whistle pig or marmot.

So how did this theory come about?  One of the first known references to this belief can be found in a Pennsylvania storekeeper’s diary on February 4, 1841: “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.”

The German immigrants known as Pennsylvania Dutch brought the tradition to America in the 18th century. They had once regarded the badger as the winter-spring barometer. The job was given to the groundhog once their Candlemas traditions were transferred to the U.S.

You can see this belief in the Scottish poem that came from Candelmas Day. Candlemas commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of Jesus, also known as Purification of the Virgin or the Presentation. (author unknown)

As the light grows longer

The cold grows stronger

If Candlemas be fair and bright

Winter will have another flight

If Candlemas be cloud and snow

Winter will be gone and not come again

A farmer should on Candlemas day

Have half his corn and half his hay

On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop

You can be sure of a good pea crop

Some people believe that it may have been started because of its association with the Gregorian calendar. The additional six weeks of winter if the groundhog saw his shadow was because of the original date for the date of the equinox (first day of spring) under the Julian calendar, before it was moved with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. Since the original Groundhog Day would have been six weeks of winter before the first day of spring and the calendar had been moved by those 4 or 5 days on the Julian calendar, the six more weeks of winter or 42 more days of winter would have been the same. Some people believe this was their version of a joke.

Others maintain that the belief stemmed from the conflict between the two calendar systems. Some marked the change of season at cross-quarter days when daylight first begins. Other thought that Spring did not begin until the length of daylight overtook night at the Vernal Equinox. The groundhog was introduced to settle the differences to allow for spring to begin at first daylight sometimes and the Vernal Equinox at other times.

Modern celebrations of this holiday include early morning festivals where crowds gather to watch the groundhog emerge from its burrow. In southeastern Pennsylvania, their celebrations include skits, plays and food. The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where they have been observing this holiday since 1886. Crowds of more than 40,000 participate in the festivities. “Punxsutawney Phil” as the groundhog is called, is pulled from his den by his keepers, who are dressed in tuxedos. Phil then whispers his weather prediction into the ear of his keeper, who then announces it to the crowd. You can also find sizable celebrations outside Pennsylvania in states of New York, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, Illinois, Texas and Georgia. Celebrations also occur in Wiarton, Ontario, and Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, in Canada.

So if you want to predict the weather, wait for February 2nd and find the burrow of a groundhog in the early morning. If he comes out and sees his shadow, bundle up for the next six weeks.

One comment

  1. very good