Groundhog Day

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Every February 2, millions of Americans focus their attention on the Pennsylvania borough of Punxsutawney to await the appearance of Punxsutawney Phil from his home atop Gobbler's Knob. If the world-famous groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, if he does not, spring is right around the corner. The Punsxy Groundhog Club has been observing this ritual since 1884.

The tradition is believed to go back to the ancient Greeks who thought that an animal's shadow was its soul, blackened by the past year's sins. During winter hibernation, the animal's soul is cleansed. Should the animal awaken before winter is over, he will see his shadow and return to his den to give nature more time to purify his soul.

The German ancestors of the Pennsylvania Dutch associated this Greek tradition with the Dachs, a badger-like animal. When these Germans settled in Pennsylvania, they could not find a Dachs so they substituted the groundhog.

It's a great party event in Punxsutawney. People gather in the pre-dawn hours in varying degrees of intoxication to listen to music and to make merry before the great groundhog's appearance. When he doesn't see his shadow, the crowd goes crazy with cheers. When he predicts more winter, they batter him and the tuxedo-clad handlers with boos and catcalls.

Either way, it's a great party. His predictions rarely, if ever, accurately predict the weather for the next six weeks. But since there is always the chance of heavy snow in Punxsutawney from October through April, you can be sure it'll be blisteringly cold in the predawn hours of February so dress warmly!

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