In the United States and Canada, Groundhog Day occurs on February 2. It is a yearly tradition that predicts, with the help of a groundhog, if spring will be warm and pleasant or cold and yucky.It’s important to know something about the four seasons here in North America.  It will help explain why Groundhog Day happens in early February.The seasons, of course, are spring, summer, fall, and winter. For half the year, (spring and summer), days are longer than nights. For the other half of the year (fall and winter), nights are longer than days.The first day of spring, also known as spring equinox or vernal equinox (EE-qui-nox), occurs on either March 20 or March 21. Vernal means ‘new’ or ‘fresh,’ while equinox means ‘equal night.’ On the vernal equinox, day and night are of equal length, and then for six months, days will be longer than nights.Around September 22, there will be another equinox, called the fall or autumnal (ah-TUM-nal) equinox. For six months starting then, nights will be longer than days.Even though spring officially begins around March 20, weather doesn’t strictly follow the calendar. If the days leading up to spring are warm and pleasant, people say that spring arrived early. If the days leading up to spring are cold and dreary, people say that spring is late.So how do we know, year to year, if spring will be early or late? We don’t. But some people believe that animals know, so they watch animals to see how they act.On February 2, people watch to see what groundhogs do and use the animals’ behavior to know if the pleasant weather of spring will come early or late.The tradition is the opposite of what you would expect. If the day is sunny and a groundhog sees its own shadow, that’s considered a bad thing. It means there will be six more weeks of winter.But if the day is cloudy and a groundhog does not see its own shadow, that’s considered a good thing. It means there will be an early spring.People who don’t know about Groundhog Day usually have three questions. How did this weird tradition get started? Why a groundhog? Why February 2nd?The tradition comes from German-speaking people who moved from Europe to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania. These people are called the Pennsylvania Dutch, even though they are not Dutch, but German. (The German word for German is Deutsch, which to American ears sounded like Dutch.)There was a Christian festival called Candlemas that took place on February 2. People believed that if it was sunny on that day, it meant six more weeks of winter. But if it was cloudy, it meant an early spring.In Europe, people watched badgers to predict the weather. In Pennsylvania, there weren’t many badgers, so they watched groundhogs instead.The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a type of large ground squirrel. They dig burrows in the ground to live in. In winter, they hibernate. That is, they go into their burrows and rest for three or more months.When a groundhog ended its hibernation and came outside, the Pennsylvania Dutch believed if it saw its shadow that meant six more weeks of winter.The first news report about Groundhog Day is thought to have been made in 1886 in a newspaper called the Punxsutawney Spirit in Punxsutawney (PUHNX-uh-TAWN-ee), Pennsylvania.  It said, “. . . up to the time of going to press, the beast has not seen its shadow.”The next year, 1887, a group of people went to a part of Punxsutawney called Gobbler’s Knob to watch a groundhog come out of its burrow. This became a yearly event, and is believed to have spread from there to many other parts of the United States and Canada.In 1961, the ‘official’ groundhog was named Phil in honor of Prince Phillip of England (Queen Elizabeth’s husband). The groundhog became known as Punxsutawney Phil. People like to pretend that Punxsutawney Phil has been alive since 1887, but that’s not true. Groundhogs only live a few years. So every few years, another groundhog becomes Punxsutawney Phil.How accurate is Punxsutawney Phil at predicting the weather? Not very. But many people still follow the tradition of watching Phil on February 2 to know if he sees his shadow or not.Fun Facts:• Groundhogs are referred to by many different names: woodchucks, chucks, ground pigs, whistle pigs and land beaver are just a few.• Young groundhogs are sometimes called chucklings.• When alarmed, a groundhog will make a high-pitched whistling sound to warn other groundhogs of danger, hence the name whistle pig.• There is a funny movie called Groundhog Day that came out in 1993. It takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and is about a man who keeps living the same day over and over. Each day, everyone (except him) says and does the same things.

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