Most often these days celebrate the accomplishments and advancements of important people in history. However, right between our celebration of civil rights advocate Martin Luther King and a celebration originally in honor of St. Valentine, we have named a day in honor of a small brown mammal – a groundhog.
How did this groundhog come to have February 2, named just for him? Groundhog Day celebrations originally began in Pennsylvania in communities of German origin. First records of this day’s celebration date back to 1841, though similar traditions were celebrated even earlier throughout Europe. Tradition says that when the groundhog emerges from its hole on Groundhog Day morning, one of two things will happen:
1) It will see its shadow and return to his hole for six more weeks of winter.
2) It will not see its shadow, and we will have an early spring.
Can a Groundhog Really Predict the Seasons?
While the groundhog may be good at making his burrow, he really is no better than you or I at forecasting weather. Most groundhogs hibernate in their burrows from October through March or April. Only in very mild climates will one emerge from its burrow earlier than the month of March. In Minnesota, you will probably not see a groundhog emerge by Groundhog Day, but if you do see one roaming around in late winter, it is almost certainly a sign that spring is approaching.
A groundhog’s presence might signify that spring is approaching, but what would its shadow tell us? Remember that we see shadows on days that are sunny. You might think that if the day is sunny, doesn’t that mean spring must be on its way? Contrary to how this might seem true, a clear, sunny winter day often suggests that cold Canadian air has come down from the North and settled on our region. If we have a lot of snow on the ground, this cold will stick around longer. Clear skies that give us shadows tell us that winter may actually stick around for a while. You don’t need a groundhog to show you his shadow though. You can step outside yourself to view a clear sky!
According to the solar calendar, Groundhog Day technically marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It falls exactly in the middle of the winter solstice and the equinox. Winter solstice marks the day where we have the least amount of daylight, whereas equinox marks the day where we have equal amounts of daylight and darkness. So, while the solar calendar tells us that spring is approaching, the snow on the ground, the goose bumps on our skin, and the fact that most groundhogs are still in their burrows tells us that it may yet be a while before we can expect flowers to pop up in our gardens.
We won’t be seeing a groundhog announcing the weather on our local news any time soon, but Groundhog Day will continue every year as a fun tradition signifying the passing of the seasons and the eventual emergence of spring!