The first Groundhog Day celebration wasn’t such a picnic for Punxsutawney Phil’s progenitors. When Punxsutawneyans gathered on a hilltop known as Gobbler’s Knob on this day, Feb. 2, in 1887, they did so not just to celebrate the weather-forecasting wizardry of the groundhog — the rodent was also on the menu.
Predicting the length of winter based upon whether or not an animal saw its shadow was nothing new to the German immigrants who settled Pennsylvania, although in the old country they relied more often on badgers and bears. Europeans had long marked winter’s midpoint on Feb. 2 by celebrating Candlemas Day, a festival of lights that also included a formula for predicting the arrival of spring. As explained in an English folk song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.
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