It’s déjà vu all over again: today is Groundhog Day, and whether they believe it or not, Americans everywhere are eager to find out if beloved groundhog Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow and pops back into his burrow — meaning six more weeks of winter.
Unfortunately, Phil told his “Inner Circle” — a group of tuxedo-clad men who manage Groundhog Day — that in his “forecast, not lead but solid gold: I see my royal shadow, six more weeks of winter to go.” So bundle up, folks!
This year marks the 132nd Groundhog Day celebration, which occurs annually at Gobbler’s Knob in the 5,500-person town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
According to the Pennsylvania Tourism Office, as many as 30,000 people descend on the tiny town annually to watch Phil emerge from his slumber, either seeing his shadow and running back into his burrow, meaning six more weeks of winter, or bravely lingering outside, meaning spring is around the corner.
Bad news for those hoping for the latter result, though: Phil has only predicted an early spring 18 times in the last 132 years.
The Pennsylvania Tourism Office says the Groundhog Day tradition dates back to the early days of Christianity in Europe, born of a winter festival called Candlemas Day. On that day, clergy would distribute candles and bless them — and if the skies were clear, it meant an extended winter was in the forecast.
Via the Roman legions, the tradition continued into Germany, where a hedgehog came into play: Germans believed that if the sun appeared on Candlemas Day, a hedgehog would cast a shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. Eventually many Germans ended up settling in Pennsylvania, bringing the legend with them; when they noted a large population of groundhogs in the state, they transferred the beliefs behind Candlemas Day to the furry little animals.
Legend has it that Phil is the only Pennsylvania groundhog to have predicted winter’s length, though the lifespan of a groundhog is around just six years. Nevertheless, Phil (or Phils?) has enjoyed quite the celebrity status, visiting President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C., in 1986, Oprah Winfrey in Chicago in 1995 and Regis Philbin, CBS and CNN in New York City in 2001.