Every year on February 2nd, otherwise known as Groundhog Day, Americans gather around to watch a furry rodent emerge from his burrow. If he sees his shadow, we get six more weeks of winter. If not, everyone celebrates the early arrival of spring.
Groundhog Day – or some form of it – has been celebrated for centuries all over the world. Early February marks the period that falls squarely between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was a symbolic time for the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as the Celtics, who eagerly anticipated the emergence of spring.
In Europe, February 2nd marked Candlemas Day for early Christians, who lit candles and commemorated the purification of the Virgin Mary.
The day also has a more practical significance. Farmers who needed an indication of whether it was time to start planting would begin watching for hibernating rodents to emerge from their winter’s sleep. In Europe, this meant the emergence of hedgehogs or badgers. When German farmers first arrived in Pennsylvania, the groundhog was their Candlemas weathervane.
According to Stan Zervanos of Pennsylvania State University, sleepy-eyed groundhogs are completely unaware of their weather-predicting significance to humans. When they emerge in early February, it’s for one reason alone: preparing to make sweet, sweet groundhog love.
The furry creatures temporarily emerge in early February in order to chat up the females and reestablish the bonds necessary for finding a mate. Then they pop back into their burrows to finish their winter nap before ending their hibernation in early March – just in time for mating season.
So the next time you think Punxsutawney Phil looks a little cranky as he’s being carried around by some guy in a top hat, it’s not your imagination. They’re throwing poor Phil completely off his game.
By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer