Sunday, February 3, 2008

Groundhog Day

When the first settlers arrived in the area known today as Punxsutawney (Pennsylvania) -- about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh -- they brought with them from Europe a centuries-old tradition known as Candlemas Day. On Candlemas Day, clergy would bless candles and distribute them to the people. The weather on Candlemas Day was considered an important indicator of the weather to come, according to an old English song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,Come, winter, have another flight.If Candlemas brings cold and rain,Go, winter, and come not again.
Long ago, German peoples picked up on the Candlemas custom. If the sun shone on Candlemas Day, the Germans believed, the hedgehog would cast a shadow and another six weeks of winter was inevitable.
When the Germans arrived in the Americas, no hedgehogs were to be found. But another similar animal, the groundhog -- or woodchuck -- was here. Believed by the native Indians to be "a wise and sensible animal," the groundhog became a hedgehog stand-in.
So it is that the tradition was born. Today, we call each February 2nd "Groundhog Day." And when one thinks of Groundhog Day, one always thinks first of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania's best-known citizen -- Punxsutawney Phil! If Phil sees his shadow when he comes out of his burrow, we're in for six more weeks of winter weather. Or so the story goes.

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