Officials observe Groundhog Day on Feb. 2, 2013 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Today, many eyes will be on a particular rodent in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to legend, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on Feb. 2 (Groundhog Day) and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, it will be an early spring.

The date has not always been associated with groundhogs, however. Research reveals that Groundhog Day has its roots in an ancient Christian tradition called Candlemas Day, when clergy would bless and distribute candles for the winter. A long candle, of course, meant that it was expected to be a long winter.  

Different countries in Europe had their own version of Candlemas Day, expanding and extending on the tradition in various ways. Germans, for example, expanded the tradition by selecting a hedgehog as a means of predicting the weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued this tradition, switching from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were much more common in Pennsylvania at the time.

For some reason, a fear of groundhog “imposters” from towns and cities across the United States led a Punxsutawney newspaper editor in 1887 to declare that “Phil the Punxsutawney Groundhog” was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog. This declaration appears to have stood the test of time, and while other cities may claim to have their own weather-predicting rodent, their predictions have been less than accurate.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, on Feb. 2, 2017, Georgia’s most famous groundhog, fondly known as General Beauregard Lee, predicted that spring would come early and the Atlanta Falcons would win the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Falcons fans, he was only half right. It is unclear whether Punxsutawney Phil had a Super Bowl prediction last year, but on the weather front, Phil wrongly predicted six more weeks of winter.