As the beginning of February 2018 finally rolls around — after what honestly seemed like the longest January in the history of time, might I add — Groundhog Day is upon us. And in anticipation of the annual event, set to take place on Feb. 2, 2018, I'm sure a lot of people are going to have some questions on their mind: What does it mean if the groundhog, named Punxsutawney Phil, sees its shadow? Or, what does it mean if the groundhog doesn't see its shadow? Or, what's the deal with this whole groundhog thing anyway? What does it tell us about our future? Did Bill Murray ever break the cycle in Groundhog Day, or is he still living a life of Feb. 2's over and over again?
First things first: The history of Groundhog Day. (Don't skip over this part, I promise it's actually interesting). Americans celebrating the tradition of Groundhog's Day goes pretty far back — all the way to 1887, to be exact, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The tradition is rooted in German superstition, and based off of the similar Catholic festival held in Germany centuries ago called Candlemas: Basically, every year on Feb. 2, they would watch a badger emerging from the ground, and if the badger cast a shadow, it meant winter was prolonged, and if not, spring was close. Why badgers? They hibernate during winter, and only emerge once the season is nearly over.
The tradition was carried to the US by the Pennsylvania Dutch (aka US German settlers) in the 1800s, but with one slight difference: Instead of a badger, a groundhog was celebrated instead. According to Business Insider, the reasoning for this was actually fairly simple: Badgers weren't often found in the northeast, and groundhogs are a similar animal in the sense that they hibernate until winter is over.
Apart from the groundhog, though, the rest of the tradition remains mostly the same: Based on the lore, if the groundhog emerges and sees his shadow, then pops back into his little hidey-hole, that means six more weeks of winter — he's not done hibernating. If he emerges and doesn't see his shadow, then spring is near. He remains outside.
So, there you have it: If the groundhog doesn't see his shadow, warm weather is approaching. Woo! ... right?
That's the tradition, anyway. The real reason groundhogs are emerging from their homes is actually more, well, science-y: According to Business Insider, groundhogs emerge around this time of year to check out their potential mates for the upcoming mating season. You know, they poke their head out, look around, see who's looking good, and then they head back underground to sleep out the rest of the winter. That way, when they emerge for good in the spring, they know who to look for. So really, it's got nothing to do with the weather. I mean, the fact that the infamous Groundhog Day groundhog has only been right about 30 percent of the time since 1887, according to Weather.com, should help you decide how much faith to put into his predictions, too.
So this year, if Punxsutawney Phil fails to see his shadow, don't pack away your winter coats just yet and break out your sandals. Chances are, we've still got a lot more winter to come. According to meteorologists, this winter will likely remain colder than average, and there's no real reason to believe that spring is going to come any sooner than usual.
Of course, science aside, I can't deny that the tradition is pretty cute, and any opportunity to see an animal on TV is a great one. But when it comes to the matters of snow tires and wool socks, you should check with the folks over at The Weather Channel for the forecast.