By Joann M. Ringelstetter
February 2nd is Groundhog Day, the day when famous weather-forecasting groundhogs from across the country predict the arrival of spring.
According to legend, if it’s sunny when the groundhog comes out of his burrow, he will see his shadow and there will be another six weeks of winter.
If, however, the day is cloudy and he doesn’t see his shadow, there will be an early spring.
Groundhog Day has its origins in an ancient Christian holiday known as Candlemas Day, a day celebrating the midpoint between the winter solstice (the beginning of winter) and the spring equinox (the beginning of spring). This was the day that all candles that were to be used in the church during the year would be blessed.
Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day. They recited: “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl until the May.” In Europe, they had watched for hibernating animals, such as badgers, bears, and hedgehogs, to come out of their burrows as a sign of winter’s end. German immigrants in Pennsylvania in the mid-1800s found an abundance of groundhogs, who also hibernate, so they began watching them to forecast the end of winter.
Groundhogs have a couple of other common names. One is the woodchuck. Almost everyone is familiar with the tongue-twister riddle, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
Groundhogs are also known as whistle-pigs because they whistle when they are frightened and also when they are mating. In 1990, the Doc Watson Family released a song called “Groundhog.” It contains the line “Run here Sally with a ten-foot pole, to twist this whistle-pig out of his hole.” Interestingly, that same year our dad and stepmom had their picture taken at the Groundhog Ball in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, which is called the Groundhog Capital of the World.
Many of you are probably familiar with the famous Pennsylvania groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. Here in Wisconsin, we watch for the forecast provided by Jimmy the Groundhog. Jimmy has predicted an early spring for 14 of the past 20 years. This has been such a long, cold winter, so let’s hope he accurately predicts an early spring!
Happy Groundhog Day and Happy Shunpiking!