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Groundhog Day 2024: Five things you didn’t know about the February tradition

As spring approaches, the time draws near for everyone’s beloved woodchuck to predict whether there’ll be six more weeks of winter. Yes, Groundhog Day is on 2 February 2024.

Since 1886, crowds as large as 40,000 have annually gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the morning of 2 February to watch a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil emerge from a burrow on Gobbler’s Knob. According to folklore, if the groundhog sees his shadow, then winter will endure for six more weeks. If it’s cloudy, then spring will come early that year.

In recent years, the annual festival has even been live-streamed to people as early as six in the morning, as members of the top hat-wearing Inner Circle announce the groundhog’s “forecast”.

Sure, Punxsutawney Phil’s weather predictions may not be totally accurate, but what’s the harm in celebrating a small, furry woodchuck each year? In fact, Groundhog Day is an interesting tradition full of history.

Here are five facts you never knew about Groundhog Day:

1) Punxsutawney Phil, the legendary groundhog who casts his prediction, has reputedly been operating in the Pennsylvania town for more than 130 years. Despite the lifespan of a groundhog usually being less than six years, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle maintains they have been speaking to the same groundhog since 1887.

2) Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob dates back to 2 February, 1887, when the town’s newspaper editor Clymer Freas informed his readers: “Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.”

However, the tradition can be traced to the Christian religious holiday of Candlemas Day, when Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed. It wasn’t until Candlemas Day was introduced in Germany that an animal was brought into the lore, claiming that if a hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day there would be a “Second Winter” or six more weeks of bad weather.

After German settlers came to what is now the United States, the Pennsylvania Dutch and other German-speaking immigrants maintained the same tradition of Groundhog Day. But with the absence of hedgehogs in their new home, woodchucks were chosen instead.

The earliest known American reference to Groundhog Day was in a Morgantown shopkeeper’s journal entry dated 4 February, 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,” the entry reads, per the National Weather Service. “But if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

3) Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow 107 times and not seen his shadow 20 times, according to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Of these times, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the groundhog’s forecasts have been about 40 per cent correct within the last 10 years.

4) Groundhogs are also referred to as “woodchucks”, forming the basis for the tongue-twister: “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

5) Groundhog Day is celebrated beyond Pennsylvania. All throughout the US, states and local towns have their own Groundhog Day events marked by their own residing groundhog. In Milltown, New Jersey, attendees await the weather forecast from Milltown Mel. Staten Island Chuck is the name given to New York City’s official weather-forecasting woodchuck who is housed at the Staten Island Zoo.

The holiday is also observed throughout Canada.