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The Groundhog’s Greatest Hits

You’ll be pleased to know that Punxatawny Phil came out of his den this morning and failed to see his shadow. That means nice weather is on the way! While Phil isn’t the only groundhog who predicts weather on February the second, he is the best known. And the legend of Groundhog Day is more about fun and wishful thinkling than about belief in his predictions. It’s just another excuse to introduce ritual and frivolity into a bleak winter. But before we had meteorologists and satellites to track weather systems, people were desperate for some good news about the weather.

According to Pennsylvania historian Christopher R. Davis, humans have looked for spring-related omens in "the position of a cat sitting by a fire, the size of the black markings on woolly-bear caterpillars, the measure of fur around a rabbit's feet ... crickets in chimneys, the height of anthills, and the elevation of hornets' nests," as well as early appearances of woodchucks, badgers, marmots, wolves, foxes, and bears. Davis also traces the strange fear of shadows to a need for cloudiness in the winter—without enough snow and rain through February, he explains, crops will be dry, and spring won't be worth looking forward to at all.

Groundhog Day does have some historical highlights, which you can read about at Atlas Obscura. And that’s a fine way to celebrate the holiday.

(Image credit: Susan Sam)


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