February 2 marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. Groundhog Day, celebrated on this date in the U.S. and Canada, began as a Pennsylvania German custom in the 18th and 19th centuries, stemming from earlier origins in ancient Europe. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and winter weather will continue for six more weeks.
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Already a widely recognized and popular tradition, the day received even more attention as a result of the 1993 comedy film Groundhog Day, which was set in Punxsutawney and portrayed Punxsutawney Phil. In the movie, the main character (Bill Murray) is forced to relive the day over and over again until he can learn to give up his selfishness and become a better person. Groundhog Day is called Woodchuck Day in some places (such as Vermont).
The groundhog (Marmota monax) – also known as a woodchuck, whistle pig, or land beaver – is a burrowing rodent belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. The etymology of the name woodchuck is unrelated to wood or chucking, but comes from an Algonquian name for the animal. However, the similarity between the words is the basis of this common tongue-twister:
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
if a woodchuck could chuck wood!
Groundhog Day Lessons & Activities:
http://www.groundhog.org/teachers (ideas for elementary, middle, and high school)
http://www.dltk-kids.com/crafts/happy_groundhog.htm (crafts, activities, and printables for elementary children)
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/crafts/groundhogday (craft projects and worksheets for preschool, kindergarten and first graders)
Here’s a recipe for Groundhog Cookies:
Did You Know…? Groundhog Day is celebrated on the same day as Candlemas (“Candle Mass”), a traditional Christian festival that celebrates the Lord as the Light of the World. Candlemas is known as the “Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple” in many eastern churches, and as “Candelaria” in Spanish speaking countries.
“For if the sun shines on Candlemas Day / So will the snow swirl until May. / But if Candlemas brings clouds and rain / Winter will not come again.”
Find more Groundhog Day facts and trivia at the Stormfax Weather Almanac: http://www.stormfax.com/ghogday.htm