What exactly is Groundhog Day?

This morning in Pennsylvania the worlds most famous groundhog came out of his burrow to see his shadow, meaning 6 more weeks of winter. If it is cloudy when the groundhog comes out of its burrow then the spring season will arrive early.  If it is sunny the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its den, and winter weather will continue for 6 more weeks.

 The History Channel gives this background on Groundhog Day…

“Falling midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, February 2 is a significant day in several ancient and modern traditions. The Celts, for instance, celebrated it as Imbolc, a pagan festival marking the beginning of spring. As Christianity spread through Europe, Imbolc evolved into Candlemas, a feast commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the holy temple in Jerusalem. In certain parts of Europe, Christians believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold and snow. Germans developed their own take on the legend, pronouncing the day sunny only if badgers and other animals glimpsed their own shadows. When German immigrants settled Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought the custom with them, choosing the native groundhog as the annual forecaster.

The first official Groundhog Day celebration took place on February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It was the brainchild of local newspaper editor Clymer Freas, who sold a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters—known collectively as the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club—on the idea. The men trekked to a site called Gobbler’s Knob, where the inaugural groundhog became the bearer of bad news when he saw his shadow.”

Goundhog Day might be most famous from the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray.

The film was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois.  Bill Murray was bitten by the groundhog that he was rushed to the hospital and treated for rabies.

Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks and can grow up to 25 inches long and live for 10 years.  They do spend their winter hibernating in burrows which reduces their metabolic rate and body temperature.  By February they can lose as much as half their weight.  When groundhogs are out of their burrows they feast on plants, wild berries and insects.

Groundhogs can cause major problems for farmers and home gardens.  They like to eat the vegetables and plants and also can leave weak soil where they build their burrows which can damage farm equipment, livestock and sometimes even the foundations of barns or other structures.  

If you use a wire mesh fence to try and keep groundhogs away from your crops or garden you must extend the fence at least 2 feet into the ground as they are excellent diggers.  You can also try ammonia soaked towels as they will mistake it for predator’s urine.  Make sure you don’t place it to close so the ammonia soaks into the soil and kills your crop.   

You can read more about groundhogs and how to get rid of them in the Farmer’s Almanac.

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