Every Feb. 2, people across the country anxiously await the groundhog’s weather forecast. Should the groundhog see his shadow, it is six more weeks of winter. If the shadow goes unseen, spring will arrive ahead of schedule. For some, Groundhog Day is the only time a person actually lays eyes on the animal doing the prognosticating. But there’s more to groundhogs than their ability to forecast the weather.
Groundhog Day can trace its origins back to ancient Europe, when a badger served as the weather prognosticator. Now those duties belong to a groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, which is a rodent belonging to a group of large ground squirrels.
The tradition of Groundhog Day revolves around the groundhog and if he sees his shadow. If the groundhog emerges from his burrow and finds it to be cloudy outside, there will be an early spring. However, if he is faced with the sun and sees his shadow, he will retreat back into the den for a longer nap, thus predicting six more weeks of winter.
Although Groundhog Day annually finds millions of people tuning in to hear whether the winter will stretch on for another few weeks or give way to an early spring, there are ways to infuse new traditions that can make the holiday much more than a super-sized weather forecast. Based on ancient customs and folklore, people across the country can incorporate new traditions into the Groundhog Day celebrations. In addition to watching for the groundhog to emerge, consider these ideas.
* Decorate your home with candles and light them in honor of Candlemas day.
* Gather scraps of fabric and faux fur and let children craft their own groundhog sock puppets. Encourage them to make predictions of how the weather will turn out.
* Learn about the groundhog by looking up information on the Internet or in the library. Depending on where you live, groundhogs may be native to your area and can be observed when the weather warms.
* Plan a Groundhog Day party and feast on nuts, fruits and fresh vegetables — all items that a groundhog would scavenge in his natural habitat.
* Create meals celebrating the holiday. Make a meatloaf shaped like a groundhog atop a hill of mashed potato “snow.” Bake up a batch of cupcakes that are dusted in cookie crumbs for dirt and use a chocolate cookie iced with a groundhog’s face to appear to be “peeking out” of the cupcake.
* Considering that Groundhog Day has Pennsylvania Dutch roots, plan a meal that celebrates those roots. Include fare like brown butter noodles, chicken corn soup, apple butter, pork and sauerkraut, and pretzels.
* Decorate the house in spring flowers and warm-weather trinkets in the hopes that spring will soon be on its way.
There are many different ways to breathe new life into Groundhog Day celebrations.
* Groundhogs do little in that burrow during their winter rest. They go into profound hibernation, where their metabolic rates and their body temperatures drop considerably. Many groundhogs begin to come out of hibernation naturally around early- to mid-February. The groundhogs that make it on television for Groundhog Day may get an earlier wake-up call.
* The scientific name of the groundhog is Marmota monax. Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are closely related to squirrels and actually can climb trees and swim.
* Groundhogs are herbivores, mostly feeding on whatever plant material they can find. Because they like crops, many farmers view them as pests. On occasion, groundhogs will scavenge for and eat insects.
* The burrows made by the animals have several chambers and different entrances and exits. It may be challenging to find a groundhog’s entry point to your yard as a result.
* On average, a groundhog will live between 3 to 6 years in the wild. In captivity, a groundhog can live to around age 10.
* A wildlife biologist once measured the inside volume of a typical woodchuck burrow. It was estimated that if the hole was filled with wood shavings instead of dirt, that woodchuck could chuck about 700 pounds’ worth of wood.
* Groundhogs are often mistaken for other animals. In fact, the “gopher” that was seen in the film “Caddyshack” was actually a groundhog.
* A groundhog can produce a high-pierced whistle when frightened, which has earned it the nickname “whistlepig.”
* Groundhog fur is not particularly thick or warm, so the animal has never really been prized for its coat for clothing.
* The most well-known groundhog prognosticators are Punxsutawney Phil, Staten Island Chuck, Wiarton Willie, and General Beauregard Lee.
* Groundhogs reside across North America, although they are more common in the Northeastern and Central United States. Groundhogs have been found as far north as Alaska.