Groundhog Day is probably the most unique American holiday. Celebrated every year on February 2nd, this day is meant to predict when winter will end and spring will arrive. When the groundhog emerges from his hibernation, it takes a look around for its shadow: if it sees its own shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, but if it doesn’t, it’s a sign that spring will soon be here.
Groundhog Day is most popularly celebrated in Pennsylvania, where the tradition began as an offshoot of Candlemas by German settlers in the 1700’s; the first official celebration of Groundhog’s Day was in 1886. Originally, the belief was that if the sun shone on Candlemas Day it was a sign that winter would last another six weeks. The groundhog likely became involved because keeping an eye on when hibernating animals start to wake up and make their way back into the world is a good way of tracking subtle weather changes.
Punxsutawney Phil, hailing from Pennsylvania, is the most famous weather-predicting groundhog (and some say, the only official one). His full title is Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.
Phil does have some competition in other states, however: Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck, New York’s Pothole Pete, and General Beauregard Lee of Georgia are just three of about a dozen American groundhogs who also claim to have spring-predicting abilities. Canadians get their groundhog news from Wiarton Willie, an albino groundhog.
Groundhogs weigh, on average, 12 to 15 pounds, and are about 20 inches long. Their lifespan is generally between 6 and 9 years – although Punxsutawney Phil takes a yearly drink of magical punch that adds another 7 years to his lifespan.
Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks or whistle pigs; they can whistle when they become frightened, or when they’re trying to attract a mate.