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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Six More Weeks of Winter?

Six More Weeks of Winter?

This week, North Americans turn their attention to the Marmota monax, the humble creature also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, land beaver or, at this time of year, the groundhog.

February 2 is Groundhog Day, a fun holiday that has its roots in the Pennsylvania “Dutch” (German) tradition. Tradition holds that if a groundhog sees his shadow on this day, six more weeks of winter will follow. If,  on the other hand, the groundhog does not see his shadow, warmer weather is on the way.

The date of the celebration coincides with the medieval feast of Candlemas, and its pre-Christian predecessor, Imbolc, a day that is also rich with weather lore. An old Scottish prophecy foretells that sunny weather on Candlemas means a long winter. The tradition is recounted in this old Scottish poem:

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

Ancient Europeans had long held that badgers and hedgehogs could foretell the weather, and came to combine this belief with the rituals surrounding Candlemas. After emigrating to Southeastern Pennsylvania, early German-American settlers substituted groundhogs, which were plentiful in their new homeland.

North America’s most famous groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, the focal point of the oldest and largest annual Groundhog Day celebration, held in Punxsutawney, Pa., every year since 1887. Members of Phil’s “Inner Circle” claim that he is 122 years old — thanks to a magical life-extending serum they feed him each year — and that his predictions are 100 percent accurate.

Besides Phil, a number of less famous groundhogs hold court at celebrations across North America, they include Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario, Staten Island Chuck in New York City, General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta, Ga., Malverne Mel and Melissa in Malverne, N.Y., Brandon Bob of Brandon, Manitoba, Balzac Billy of Balzac, Alberta, Shubenacadie Sam of Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, Gary the Groundhog of Kleinburg, Ontario, Spanish Joe of Spanish, Ontario, Sir Walter Wally of Raleigh, N.C., Pardon Me Pete of Tampa, Fl., Jimmy the Groundhog of Sun Prairie, Wisc., and Octoraro Orphie of Quarryville, Pa.

Whether or not you believe the groundhogs can accurately forecast the weather, be sure to check out the Farmers’ Almanac’s long-range forecast to see if warmer weather is on the way for your area.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.