It was this critter’s good fortune to emerge from hibernation on February 2, Candlemas Day. Candles have been blessed on this day since the 11th Century. A Scottish couplet proclaimed, “If Candlemas be fair and clear/There’ll be two winters in the year.”
The ancient Romans are said to have kept a vigil for the hedgehog. They thought if the hedgehog could see his shadow in the moonlight, there would be six more weeks of winter.
Over time, the practice has served as a folk holiday in Europe and Britain. The Germans brought the custom to the United States but because they couldn’t find a hedgehog, they made the groundhog (or woodchuck) the subject of their event. They believed that if the he was frightened by his shadow on a sunny day, he would go back into hibernation and stay there for up to six weeks.
Groundhog Day itself came into being during the late 1800s, thanks to the combined efforts of Clymer H. Freas, a newspaper editor, and W. Smith, an American congressman and newspaper publisher. They organized and popularized a yearly festival in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania featuring a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil who is used to foretell how long the winter will last. In addition to Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day events are held Nebraska, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, Arkansas, California, and other states, as well as in Canada.