February 2nd marks the nation-wide celebration of Groundhog Day. Although this holiday does not have the same significance (or the time off from work and school) as Christmas and New Year’s Day, it does have interesting cultural roots. Traditionally in New York City (NYC), we wait around to see if Staten Island Chuck (also known as Charles G. Hogg NYC’s beloved groundhog) pops his head up from his underground home in the Staten Island Zoo, looking for his shadow. This could predict if NYC will experience six more weeks of winter or the coming of spring. So far, Chuck has had an 80%accuracy rate in his prediction.
The historical background be-hind Groundhog Day dates back to the 1800s from a German myth. It was believed that on Candlesmas Day an animal would wake from hibernation on February 2nd to see their shadow, which would predict if there would be six more weeks of winter or six weeks until spring-time. This myth turned into a tradition in the 1880s, when Pennsylvanian newspapers report-ed on a group of settlers searching for the groundhog’s prediction. It is now a fun-filled tradition in which the Mayor of New York City holds the ground-hog up and announces its weather update.
Here are a few facts from SoftSchools.com:
- The largest and most famous celebration for Groundhog Day in the United States is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and the groundhog’s name is Punxsutawney Phil.
- The largest and most famous celebration for Groundhog Day in Canada is held in Wiarton, Ontario and the groundhog’s name is Wiarton Willie.
- The groundhog is also known as a woodchuck.
- Groundhogs eat a lot of food all summer and become very fat and then sleep all winter. This is called hibernation.
- When groundhogs have babies they have about six at a time and the babies live with their mothers for several months.
- Groundhogs are members of the squirrel family and are the largest of all marmots.
- Groundhogs can climb trees and can swim very well.
- Groundhogs eat plants and grass and are herbivores.
- Approximately 40,000 people attend the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania each February 2nd.
- The first Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney was held in 1886 and has been held each year since then.
- The University of Dallas in Irving, Texas holds a Groundhog Day celebration each year which is believed to be the second largest celebration in the world after Punxsutawney.
- There is a Groundhog Day celebration held at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park in Nova Scotia, Canada each year.
- Punxsutawney Phil’s weather predictions have been accurate approximately 39% of the time since 1887. He sees his shadow about 85% of the time.
- Groundhog Day celebration organizers claim that predictions are accurate about 75% to 90% of the time.
- Other countries have similar spring forecast customs including Serbia (Sretenje), Germany (Siebenschlafertag), United Kingdom (St. Swithun’s Day) and Alaska (Marmot Day).
Whether Staten Island Chuck sees his shadow or not on February 2nd, it’s important to dress appropriately for the weather our meteorologists predict for each day. Under-dressing for cold days or even the occasional flash freeze could lead to hypothermia or pneumonia.
Photo courtesy of John VetterlI via Flickr