STATESIDE STORIES: Groundhog What?

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Groundhog Day/Anthony Quintano, CC BY2.0

By Mary Foran

February 2nd is Groundhog Day in Canada and the United States. What’s a groundhog, you ask? Well, it’s a large (12 to 15 pounds) ground squirrel, also known as a woodchuck, whose scientific name is Marmota monax.

Do you remember the tongue-twister that goes like this: how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Well, the woodchuck lives six to eight years, eats vegetables and fruits, whistles when it is frightened or looking for a mate, can climb trees and swim, and goes into hibernation in the late fall.

Groundhog/Marumari

Groundhog/Marumari

In February, male groundhogs come out of their burrows to look for a mate before going underground again until March. German settlers in America, keeping up a tradition from the Old Country, adopted the groundhog as their mascot in place of the hedgehog or badger that had been the focus of their Candlemas tradition in Germany. That was the day that clergy would bless and distribute the candles needed for the winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Since predicting the weather was such a difficult task, they enlisted the help of a plentiful little animal, the hedgehog, and in America, the groundhog.

GROUNDHOG Punxsy Phil poster CC BY 2.0The first Groundhog Day was held in 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania at Gobbler’s Knob. The Mascot of the festivities, Phil the Groundhog, would, according to legend, come out of his burrow and see his shadow, which would mean six more weeks of winter, or come out on a cloudy day, which would mean an early spring.

In 1887, a newspaper editor from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared that Phil was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog. But other communities added names to his: Birmingham Bill, Staten Island Chuck and Shubenacadie Sam in Canada.

Tens of thousands of people celebrate the three-day festival in Pennsylvania each year to witness a true descendant of Phil predict the end of winter.

Right now, the Mid-West is being blasted by Arctic Cold, so its a good thing that Phil and his fellows are safe and warm in their burrows until Groundhog Day!

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Images
Featured image: Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney, 2013, CC ATTRIBUTION 2.0 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/quintanomedia/8437246171/)

Groundhog: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Marumari, GNU Free Documentation License (cropped)
Punxsy Phil weather poster by  Eddie~S photostream (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pointshoot/), CC BY2.0 generic –