On February 2nd, people through-out North America waits upon the groundhog to predict if winter is going to last longer or if spring is coming sooner. Where did this custom start?
In the ancient times in the European countries our ancestors look to many different types of animals to make weather predictions. Groundhog day has it's origins tied in with the Christian celebration of Candlemas which in turn has it's tie with the Pagan celebration of Imbolc; the celebration of the first stirring of Spring. Instead of a groundhog making the weather forecast it was usually a badge or a bear. Many customs taught that between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox was the best time to make weather predictions.
Some legends state that the Romans actually used or watched the groundhog during the first days of February which was the best to make weather forecast for the future. According to traditions Groundhog day was started in Germany by blending the Christian and Roman customs and then German immigrants brought the customs to Pennsylvania. In Germany, the badger was used instead of the groundhog. The Germans believed that the badger had the power to predict the coming of Spring. They would watch the activity of the badger which then would tell them when to start planting.
A similar custom is practiced in Serbia on Feb. 15th, among Orthodox Christians. They would join in the feast of Sretenje or the Meeting of the Lord. They believed on this day a bear will awake from it's long winter nap. If the bear sees it's shadow then it would be scared back into it's den and sleep for another 40 days and winter would be prolonged.
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with a crowd of 40,000 people and has been celebrated since 1887. A group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney gave themselves the name of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and their furry oracle was named Punxsutawney Phil. According to their folklore, Phil has lived a very long life, over 100 years because he partakes of the 'elixir of life' which is served to him every summer at the annual Groundhog Picnic and they don't allow any pictures of this event. Hmmmm...
Another similar custom is also celebrated in Portugal on February the 2nd. It is called The Candelaria Day which refers to Jesus at the Temple. If it's a sunny day, winter is still to come. If it's raining, then winter is out.