Groundhog’s Day originated as an early Christian holiday known as ‘Candlemas’ and marked the mid point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. On this day the candles used during the secular year would be blessed and distributed. Candles would be lit and placed in windows to ward off spirits that might lurk on cold winter nights. It was thought that Candlemas could predict the weather for the rest of the winter:
“if Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.”
Sound familiar? It should! Candlemas folklore eventually became our Groundhog day by way of the Germans. They decided that if Candlemas was sunny an animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow and would predict six more weeks of winter. When Germans emigrated to the United States they brought their holiday with them, but upon settling in Pennsylvania there were no hedgehogs to be found! So a groundhog was elected to take its place.
Today many animals other than a groundhog are used to predict the remaining winter weather to include an armadillo in Texas. The National Climatic Data Center reports that Punxsutawney Phil has been right 39% of the time. Not bad for a weather predicting woodchuck!
The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Groundhog Day