Groundhog Day is an annual holiday celebrated on February 2nd in the United States and Canada. A groundhog (Marmota monax) is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels.
According to folklore, if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day fails to see its shadow, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If on the other hand, the groundhog sees its shadow, the groundhog will supposedly retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.
The holiday, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather folklore, wherein a badger or sacred bearis the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog.
The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas. It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1st and also involves weather prognostication.
Modern customs of the holiday involve celebrations where early morning festivals are held to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow. In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken, put into a bowl in the center of the table.
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as high as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday since at least 1886.
Groundhog Day received worldwide attention as a result of the 1993 film of the same name, Groundhog Day, which was set in Punxsutawney (though filmed primarily in Woodstock, Illinois) and featured Punxsutawney Phil.
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