Happy Groundhog Day 2017

February finds many of us in the middle of winter desperately hoping for the first day of spring. One of the ways we count down to the big day is through the unique holiday of Groundhog Day, which falls on February 2nd, today, in 2017.

Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian feast and celebration day known as Candlemas Day. On Candlemas Day, the clergy would bless and distribute candles for the winter. It was believed that the candles’ endurance represented how long and cold the winter would be. The tradition has a German origin.

The Germans would keep the traditions of Candlemas Day through the centuries and would expand this by selecting the hedgehog as a means of predicating the weather. Germans would further expand this tradition as they began to immigrate to America, particularly Pennsylvania, where they would switch from hedgehogs to groundhogs.

On February 2, 1887, the Punxsutawney Ground Hog club would celebrate the first Groundhog Day. There they would name Phil the Punxsutawney groundhog, America’s only true weather forecasting groundhog. Phil, like many male groundhogs, most likely made his appearance that February for a number of reasons. Male groundhogs emerge from their burrows to look for a mate before eventually going back underground.

The Punxsutawney groundhogs might be the most famous, but several other animals have been relied on to carry the tradition of predicting the emergence of spring. One town even goes so far as to depend on a caterpillar; no matter where you are in the United States or Canada you would still be able to take part in the fun of February 2nd.

Recent Studies claim that groundhogs have only successfully predicted the weather about forty percent of the time, but many still hold to the tradition. Still, the groundhog must come out of his hole, and if he sees his shadow then there will be six more weeks of winter. However, if no shadow is seen then it is said that we might partake in an early spring.

Today, Groundhog Day is still annually celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Every year the participants of the town, along with several media outlets, take to the burrow of that year’s Punxsutawney Phil. After the annual prediction the people celebrate with a three day festival to commemorate the occasion. The town and holiday gained even more notoriety following the 1993 Bill Murray film Groundhog Day.

No matter if you believe in the traditions and Phil’s prediction or not, there is one thing that most everyone can agree on: the first official day of spring and its impending arrival are what we keep in mind to help us get through the rest of these long and cold winter days. Only 45 more days to go… but who’s counting?

Source: Elizabeth Lane, Jefferson County Post Staff Writer

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