Every year on February 2, Americans turn their attention to a small furry little animal. According to legend, if the groundhog sees his or her shadow there will be six more weeks of winter, but if not, spring is on the way. The peculiarity of this tradition has earned it a beloved place in American folklore.
History of Groundhog Day
Upon coming to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, German settlers brought a longstanding tradition known as Candlemas Day, celebrated at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition held that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. To determine the “forecast,” Germans watched a badger to check for a shadow.
Since there were no badgers in Pennsylvania, they looked for the next best thing and chose the groundhog. Thus the tradition in America began: If the groundhog sees his shadow, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole. If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.
What is a Groundhog Anyway?
The groundhog, Marmota monax, belongs to the marmot family, and goes by many names, including woodchuck and whistle pig due to the sound they make through their large teeth to warn one another of danger. While there are several species of marmots in North America, our groundhog is found mostly in the eastern United States and across much of southern Canada.
They often grow up to 20 inches in length, with a tail that measures roughly six inches long, and generally weigh between six and 12 pounds. They nest in burrows that can be up to six feet below ground. These burrows sometimes have as many as five entry points, consisting of an intricate network of tunnels that often total up to 40 feet in length.
Groundhogs generally hibernate from October through March, making them one of New England’s true hibernators. While hibernating, a groundhog’s body temperature drops from 90°F to 40°F, and its heartbeat drops from 100 beats per minute to 4 beats per minute!
Celebrating Groundhog Day
While the award for the most famous groundhog in America goes to Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania, here in Massachusetts we have our own celebrity. Ms. G has been “forecasting” the weather at Drumlin Farm since 2003. In fact, there’s a petition to make Ms. G the official groundhog of the Commonwealth. Looking for ways to celebrate? Here are a few:
- Come see Ms. G make her official forecast on February 2 at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln. In addition to her reading, there will be snacks, crafts, stories, and the chance to meet one of New England’s favorite meteorologists, Mish Michaels.
- Ipswich River in Topsfield will also be hosting a Groundhog Day Celebration February 2, including nature hikes, snow sculptures, a groundhog obstacle course, crafts, refreshments, and more.
- And, to get you in the spirit, Moose Hill will offer stories, craft making, fun games, and, if weather allows, a hike to see groundhog habitat for kids ages 4 to 6 on January 31.
So what do you think? Shadow or no shadow?