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The Real Origin of Groundhog Day—And How It Can Be Traced Back to the Ancient Christian Celebration of Candlemas Day

How Groundhog Day came to be.
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Groundhog Day is a uniquely American tradition, but its roots come from across the Atlantic.

The February 2 holiday can be traced back to the ancient Christian celebration of Candlemas Day, the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox where clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. Germany added something extra to these festivities: They used a hedgehog to predict the weather, saying if the hedgehog saw its shadow, they'd endure six more weeks of bad weather.

Related: When Is Groundhog Day?

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Between 1725 and 1775, a swath of Germans made their way to the United States, many of them settling in Pennsylvania. They kept their Candlemas tradition, replacing the hedgehog with a groundhog, which were plentiful in the area.

Pennsylvania newspaper Punxsutawney Spirit published a story about the groundhog festivities in 1886, and the next year, the city embraced the celebration and held the first Groundhog Day at Gobbler’s Knob. The newspaper's editor (who belonged to a group of groundhog hunters) declared that Phil, Punxsutawney's groundhog, was the nation's only weather-forecasting rodent.

But why does the groundhog actually emerge? The critters go into hibernation in the late fall and peek out in February to look for a mate before burrowing back underground. They're fully awake come March.

Next, Groundhog cast then and now!

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