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Groundhog Day: The Original Meteorologist

Before weather forecasting technology, we relied on the emergence of a particular rodent to let us know if winter was over. But how did the groundhog become a symbol for this old tradition?

Groundhog sports a top hat as onlookers peer over his shoulder for Groundhogs Day. This is his moment—does he see his shadow or not? He probably does because it's sunny. "That will be 6 more weeks of winter," he says in an unsuspecting deep gruff voice.
Groundhog Day is February 2nd—will it be an early spring or 6 more weeks of winter?

As February kicks off, we look to an adorable furry meteorologist to predict the end to this bitter cold—will it be an early spring, or will we have six more weeks of winter? This all hinges on whether a groundhog sees its shadow or not.

 

According to the tradition, should a groundhog emerge from its burrow and see its shadow, it becomes scared and retreats back into hibernate for six more weeks of winter. Otherwise, if it’s a cloudy day and the groundhog’s shadow is absent, this signifies an early spring![1]

 

In the olden days, this was a helpful folklore to signal to people the changing of seasons. Nowadays, there are more accurate ways of forecasting the weather, but the tradition is kept alive today.

 

Groundhog Day, which is celebrated on February 2nd, is an annual tradition that is popular in Canada and the United States. The tradition’s history can be tied to many cultures—especially since the day falls on the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The midway point was a significant time, as it meant the coming of spring.

 

In Celtic culture, they celebrated Imbolc, which translates to “in the belly of the Mother.”[2] This day signified the beginning of spring, since this was a time when animals were birthing and seeds were planted. [3] Then, there is the historical connection to the old Christian festival Candlemas. Keeping with the theme of spring over taking winter or light triumphing over darkness, this tradition began as a commemoration of the Virgin Mary keeping Jewish purification laws after giving birth and dedicating Jesus to God.[4] In later centuries, this event was celebrated with a candlelit procession and a feast. This is where the name Candlemas came from. The idea of lighting candles as a symbol of purification dates back to pagan times where farmers would “purify” their lands by participating in a procession of torches before seeding time.[5]

 

Lastly, with the changing of the seasons, came the connection to animal hibernation. Before meteorology, many observed the hibernation cycles of animals such as bears, otters, and hedgehogs. Originally, badgers were observed for this tradition, but when the practice came to North America in 1887 by German immigrants, groundhogs replaced badgers, since they were not native to the land.

 

There’s no doubt that a groundhog predicting the weather is adorable—but by today’s standards, groundhogs are not the best weather forecasters. Meteorological data shows that our furry weather anchors made accurate predictions about 37 per cent of the time.

Nevertheless, Groundhog Day is a fun and silly tradition that celebrates the transition from winter to spring!


 
Sources

[1] Business Insider—Origin and history of Groundhog Day predicting the winter weather


[2] Britannica—Imbolc


[3] Britannica—Groundhog Day, weather folklore


[4] Almanac—Candlemas / Groundhog Day


[5] The Canadian Encyclopedia—Groundhog Day in Canada

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