Groundhog Day can trace its origins back to ancient Europe, when a badger served as the weather prognosticator. Now those duties belong to a groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, which is a rodent belonging to a group of large ground squirrels.
The tradition of Groundhog Day revolves around the groundhog and if he sees his shadow. If the groundhog emerges from his burrow and finds it to be cloudy outside, there will be an early spring. However, if he is faced with the sun and sees his shadow, he will retreat back into the den for a longer nap, thus predicting six more weeks of winter.
Groundhog Day coincides with the Christian festival of Candlemas Day, which also takes place on Feb. 2.
Candlemas marks the halfway point between the shortest day of the winter and the first day of spring. Candlemas commemorates the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of her son, Jesus. On this day, Christians remember the presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple.
Because there were no electric lights at that time, candles were used in church celebrations, and the festival became known as the mass of the candles, or Candlemas.
Much like Groundhog Day is today, Candlemas was used to forecast the weather, hence the old weather proverb:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.
Although Groundhog Day annually finds millions of people tuning in to hear whether the winter will stretch on for another few weeks or give way to an early spring, there are ways to infuse new traditions that can make the holiday much more than a super-sized weather forecast. Based on ancient customs and folklore, people across the country can incorporate new traditions into the Groundhog Day celebrations.
In addition to watching for the groundhog to emerge, consider these ideas.
* Decorate your home with candles and light them in honor of Candlemas day.
* Gather scraps of fabric and faux fur and let children craft their own groundhog sock puppets. Encourage them to make predictions of how the weather will turn out.
* Learn about the groundhog by looking up information on the Internet or in the library. Depending on where you live, groundhogs may be native to your area and can be observed when the weather warms.
* Plan a Groundhog Day party and feast on nuts, fruits and fresh vegetables — all items that a groundhog would scavenge in his natural habitat.
* Create meals celebrating the holiday. Make a meatloaf shaped like a groundhog atop a hill of mashed potato “snow.” Bake up a batch of cupcakes that are dusted in cookie crumbs for dirt and use a chocolate cookie iced with a groundhog’s face to appear to be “peeking out” of the cupcake.
* Considering that Groundhog Day has Pennsylvania Dutch roots, plan a meal that celebrates those roots. Include fare like brown butter noodles, chicken corn soup, apple butter, pork and sauerkraut, and pretzels.
* Decorate the house in spring flowers and warm-weather trinkets in the hopes that spring will soon be on its way.