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What you always wanted to know about groundhogs but were too confused to ask

by: Submitted photo, Punxsutawney Phil is at the center of the media frenzy every year on Feb. 2 – Groundhog Day.

According to stormfax.com: 'When German settlers arrived in the 1700s, they brought a tradition known as Candlemas Day, which has an early origin in the pagan celebration of Imbolc. It came at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition held that if the weather was fair on Candlemas, the second half of winter would be stormy and cold.

Over the years, Europeans - particularly Germans - concluded that the aforementioned prediction could be made with the help of a rodent. According to groundhog.org, the Germans 'concluded that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of bad weather.'

Pennsylvania's earliest settlers were Germans. When they found groundhogs in many parts of the state, they 'determined that the groundhog, resembling the European hedgehog, was a most intelligent and sensible animal. They decided that if the sun did appear on Feb. 2, so wise an animal as the groundhog would see its shadow and hurry back into its underground home for another six weeks of winter.'

Groundhog Day officials maintain that today's Phil is the same Phil that kicked off the ritual in 1887. The Web site maintains that at an annual picnic during the summer, Phil drinks a magic elixir that adds seven more years to his life.

During his 119-plus years serving as the nation's weather-rat, Phil has had some noteworthy milestones, as quoted on groundhog.org:

In the midst of Prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn't allowed a drink. Phil had an 'unfortunate meeting with a skunk' in 1937. Did the groundhog run back into his hole because of the skunk or because he saw his shadow? The next year, Phil saw his shadow, recorded as the 'blackest shadow in history.'

During World War II in 1942, Phil saw his shadow, but only partially because 'War clouds blacked out parts of the shadow.' In 1958, Phil announced that it was a 'United States Chucknik,' rather than a Soviet Sputnik or Muttnik that became the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth. In 1981, Phil wore a yellow ribbon in honor of the American hostages in Iran. Phil traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1986, to meet with President Reagan. Phil appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1995. In 2001, Phil's prediction was shown live on the JumboTron at Times Square in New York City.

In the years following the release of the movie 'Groundhog Day,' record crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney.

So happy Groundhog Day, everyone! If you want to learn more about Phil and his posse, visit his official Web site at www.groundhog.org.