4 Fun Groundhog Facts

Each year on February 2, America’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney  Phil, emerges from his burrow and looks for his shadow. The legend goes  that if he sees it, six more weeks of winter lie ahead. If he doesn’t  see his shadow, there will be an early spring. William Deeley, president  of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, which is responsible for the  nation’s largest and most famous Groundhog Day, has shared some facts  about the zany holiday with TIME. Check them out below: 

  1. Groundhog Day didn’t always involve groundhogs. The roots of Groundhog Day can be traced back to a Christian holiday  called Candlemas Day. Each year, on the midpoint between the winter  solstice and the spring equinox, members of the clergy would bless and  distribute candles needed to get people through the remaining winter  days. Tradition went that winter would drag on if Candlemas Day dawned  sunny and clear, but spring would come soon if the weather was cloudy.  The Germans expanded on Candlemas Day by taking meteorology cues from a  hedgehog. Their folklore said that if the hedgehog cast a shadow on  Candlemas Day, winter would continue for six more weeks. When German  immigrants began to settle in Pennsylvania in the 1880's, they adapted  the custom to use the more common groundhog. The tradition stuck, and  continues to this day. 
  2. Groundhogs were not always treated as well as Punxsutawney Phil. These  days, Punxsutawney Phil is treated like “royalty." But when Groundhog  Day first came to Pennsylvania, that likely wasn’t the case. “It was a  social party,” Deeley says. “They basically got together and instead of  him being the honoree, he was the entrée.” Yes, that means they  “probably ate the groundhog,” Deeley clarified. 
  3. There has likely been more than one groundhog Phil. Many people wonder how many groundhogs have made Groundhog Day  predictions over the years. To Deeley, the Punxsutawney Phil is an  immortal character, just like “Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck or the Easter  Bunny.” “At our summer picnic, we give Phil a shot of this special punch  or elixir, and for every gulp he gets, [the legend goes] he gets seven  more years of longevity,” Deeley explains. “It’s a secret recipe.” The  formula is so closely guarded, in fact, that even Deeley doesn’t know  the whole thing. Several Groundhog Club members and handlers contribute  different parts of the brew, to ensure that the recipe never gets out in  its entirety. Deeley declined to share how many groundhog Phil’s there  have been, but the average groundhog living in captivity can live up to  10 years, according to the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology.  That means that if each Punxsutawney Phil lived a decade, there have  been about 13 groundhogs. 
  4. Punxsutawney Phil is married.  Phil and his “wife” Phyllis live together. Unlike most groundhogs, which  hibernate through the winter, Deeley says they’re kept in an  environment with enough light and heat to keep them awake for Groundhog  Day on February 2, albeit a little “lethargic and sleepy.”
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