Groundhog Day: Why Ask A Rodent About The Weather?

Julia Little  |  February 3, 2014

The first Groundhog Day in the U.S. was celebrated in 1887, an interpretation of a European tradition of predicting the upcoming weeks of weather by observing the shadow of a hedgehog. According to The History Channel, settlers in Punxsutawney, Pa., couldn't locate a hedgehog, so they went for the closest option they had - a groundhog.

Today, that creature is Punxsutawney Phil, who "said" in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "[keeping] alive the magic that is Groundhog Day" is what's most important to him in life. What did Phil predict this year? Read on to find out:

Why ask an animal at all?
The Huffington Post reports that the custom dates back to agricultural societies, which paid close attention to animal migration and hibernation patterns to predict the changing of seasons. The U.S. is also not the only country to practice Groundhog Day-like celebrations. According to the news source, Germany, Ireland and England consult a badger, while in Italy and Lithuania, weather predictions are garnered from a snake.

As far as more recent tradition goes, legend has it that Pennsylvania's mascot comes out of his hole Feb. 2 after hibernating for the winter to see if he should head out into the world or go back to sleep for a few more weeks. According to the official Groundhog Day website, although it may seem contrary to common sense, if Phil spots his shadow due to sunshine, it's a sign that winter will continue for six more weeks. Cloudy conditions, however, signify that spring is just around the corner.

Ways to commemorate
This year, the 128th celebration of Groundhog Day in the U.S. was commemorated by people, not just in Pennsylvania, but around the nation. Residents of senior living may have enjoyed taking a few moments to tune into live television coverage of the events as they played out on Gobblers Knob in Punxsutawney at 7:20 a.m. Feb. 2. If you didn't get the chance to watch yourself, here's an update: Phil saw his shadow, which means it's time to hibernate for another six weeks. More optimistic folks, however, might prefer to take the predictions of fellow groundhog Mortimer, who stuck his head out in Chapel Hill, N.C., to a cloudy afternoon. No sunshine indicates that spring may be right around the corner. For more accurate predictions, people might prefer to just take a step outside themselves and make their own guesses about impending weather systems.

Looking for a few other ways to celebrate? Consider a holiday-appropriate viewing of "Groundhog Day" - a 1993 comedy film about a man, played by Bill Murray, who wakes up Feb. 2 - every morning. You could also add Punxsutawney Phil's favorite hit, the "Pennsylvania Polka" to your listening schedule. If nothing else, take heed these words of wisdom that Phil shared with the Post-Gazette:

"Believe in yourself. Meteorologists are correct about 70 percent of the time, but groundhogs must always be right. People just don't understand what is involved in this. This is an art form!"