On Sunday, (February 2), the US and Canada marked Groundhog Day, an annual tradition in which a groundhog predicts whether winter will continue or give way to spring soon.
In the US, the most famous such prognostication is held at Punxsutawney town (pronounced “punks-uh-taw-nee”) in Pennsylvania state.
This year, the groundhog, called “Punxsutawney Phil”, has predicted an early spring.
Groundhog Day became more popular after a 1993 film of the same name starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.
What is Groundhog Day, the North American tradition?
If on February 2, the day is sunny and a groundhog (a rodent native to North America) emerges from its burrow and sees its own shadow, it is said to predict six more weeks of winter.
On the other hand, if the day is cloudy and the animal’s shadow can’t be seen, it is taken to be a sign of milder weather in the following weeks, indicating an early spring season.
The tradition began during the Middle Ages in Europe, when it was believed that badgers and bears interrupted their hibernation to appear on this day. German settlers in North America brought the tradition with them, and the badger was replaced by the groundhog.
Groundhog Day is also believed to be an enhanced version of Candlemas, a Christian festival which falls on the same day every year. According to lore, clear weather on Candlemas day forebodes a prolonged winter.
The Punxsutawney event began in 1887, and receives significant media attention in the US. Punxsutawney Phil, the designated groundhog, emerges from its temporary home in the morning before sunrise, and makes its prediction.
A group of people in top hats and tuxedos announce the interpretation to an expectant crowd cheering “Phil! Phil!”.
So far, Phil has been accurate less than 40 per cent of the time, and has predicted a longer winter on more than 100 occasions.
Scientifically, the emergence of a groundhog from its burrow is believed to be related to the amount of fat that the animal could store before going into hibernation.
In Canada, the groundhog prognosticators Wiarton Willie and Shubenacadie Sam are famous.
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