Tomorrow, February 2nd is officially Groundhog Day, and is celebrated in Canada and the US. According to legend, the groundhog (or woodchuck or “whistle pig”) emerges from its burrow at noon on that day to look for its shadow. If it is a sunny day and the groundhog sees its shadow, according to folklore it becomes frightened and returns to its hole to sleep, and winter continues for six more weeks. If it does not see its shadow, it remains outside because the worst of winter is over and warmer weather is on its way.
The origins of Groundhog Day lie in medieval Europe, where the day was known as Candlemas Day, a Christian festival named for the custom of lighting candles on that day. In Scotland, conventional wisdom said, “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be twa [two] winters in the year.” In England, the saying was somewhat more elaborate: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come Winter, have another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again. “
In addition to being attentive to the changing seasons, Europeans may have had a legend whereby hedgehogs predicted the beginning of spring by the state of the weather on Candlemas Day. When European settlers came to North America, they brought the February 2nd legend with them. There being no hedgehogs in North America, they transferred the predictive role to groundhogs.
Groundhog Day has become a means of inserting a little fun–and hope for spring–into long, cold Canadian winters. The North American tradition of watching for a groundhog to emerge from its burrow to make a prediction began with German settlers in Punxsutawney, Pa, in 1887. That tradition has grown into a week-long festival starring the furry rodent.
In Canada, Wiarton Willie is the primary groundhog predictor. He is an albino groundhog who lives in Wiarton, ON near Georgian Bay. He has been making his predictions since 1956; however, the role of Willie has been played by several groundhogs over the years. Like Punxsutawney Phil, Wiarton Willie does not live in a burrow in the wild; he lives in a special house across from Bluewater Park, away from predators.
Groundhog Day organizers maintain that the rodents’ forecasts are accurate 75 to 90 percent of the time; however, meteorological records prove that the groundhogs’ success rate is quite low at 37 percent. A study of weather data over several decades for 13 cities across Canada reveals there were an equal number of cloudy and sunny days on February 2nd, but for nearly two-thirds of those years the groundhogs’ forecasts turned out to be wrong. If it was not for wanting to inject a little fun into our long dreary winters, but we would be better off flipping a coin to predict the arrival of Spring.
Now, just because I have not provided you with any ‘groaners’ lately, prepare yourself for the worst: What happened when the groundhog met the dogcatcher? He became a pound hog! What would you get if you crossed Groundhog Day with a Christmas drink? Ground Nog Day! What do you call a royal groundhog? A crowned hog!