According to Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, on Feb. 2, if the groundhog comes out of his burrow and sees his shadow, he will be frightened and go back underground. This means six more weeks of winter.
How did the Groundhog Day myth start? According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website (groundhog.org), the tradition started in Europe where Feb. 2 is celebrated as Candlemas Day. This was the day Christians brought candles to church to be blessed. A legend about Candlemas was incorporated into a folk song: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again.”
German-speaking Europeans added an animal to the Candlemas tradition According to that tradition, if the badger saw his shadow on Feb. 2, it meant four more weeks of winter. In areas where badgers were not common, the tradition was expanded to other animals such as the bear or the fox.
German immigrants brought the Dachstag (Badger Day) tradition with them to North America, where it was adapted to the groundhog. Groundhogs are rodents native to North America.
According to known records, the first public celebrations of Groundhog Day in the United States were in Pennsylvania Dutch communities. The first newspaper report was in 1886 in Punxsutawney, Penn. The editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper is credited with promoting Groundhog Day as a community celebration.
In the 1880s, The Punxsutawney Elks Lodge organized the Groundhog Day celebrations. In 1899, The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club was formed.
Other communities formed their own Groundhog Lodges, but Punxsutawney remains the most well-known. The annual Ground Hog Day celebration in Punxsutawney draws about 40,000 people.
Groundhogs are not native to Florida, so the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has suggested the Sunshine State could celebrate the Gopher Tortoise instead.
People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have suggested other ways to use nature to predict the weather without bothering the shy groundhog or other animals.
PETA offered to send Punxsutawney a persimmon tree. According to folklore, take the seed out of a ripe persimmon and cut it open. If the kernel is spoon-shaped, expected more snow. If the kernel is fork shaped, a milder winter is expected.
Other folklore traditions suggested by PETA: