First Groundhog Day Celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania

According to folklore, if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day fails to see its shadow, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end.

If on the other hand, the groundhog sees its shadow, the groundhog will supposedly retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks. The holiday, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas. It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather prognostication.

Modern customs of the holiday involve celebrations where early morning festivals are held to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow. In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g'spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken, put into a bowl in the center of the table.

The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as high as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday since at least 1886. Other celebrations of note in Pennsylvania take place in Quarryville in Lancaster County, the Anthracite Region of Schuylkill County, the Sinnamahoning Valley and Bucks County. Outside of Pennsylvania, notable celebrations occur in the Frederick and Hagerstown areas of Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Woodstock, Illinois, and among the Amish populations of over twenty states and Canada. The University of Dallas in Irving, Texas has taken Groundhog Day as its official university holiday and organizes a large-scale celebration every year in honor of the Groundhog.

Here are other groundhog and Groundhog Day facts from the Brookfield Zoo:

Most famous one of them all: Punxsutawney Phil

First Groundhog Day: Celebrated in 1886 in Punxsutawney, Penn.

Legend: The groundhogs' aptitude for prognostication is based on German folklore that goes back several hundred years. If the groundhog sees its shadow, it gets scared and runs back into home. So there will be at least six weeks of wintry weather. Should the day be cloudy, spring will come early.

Prediction success rate: 39 percent

Hibernation: While lacking in meteorological skills, groundhogs are expert hibernators. Groundhogs dig a winter burrow and curl up into a ball on a bed of grasses. During hibernation, their metabolism slows down to conserve energy. They breathe only once every six minutes, and their heart beats only four times a minute. All the while, their body temperature drops to as low as 40 degrees.