Groundhog Day has its roots in the medieval European tradition of Candlemas. On a day in early February, people would light candles to brighten up a dark season and watch the weather to see whether or not spring was on the way.
Many cultures adopted rhymes to sum up the Candlemas weather watching traditions. The most succinct is a Scottish couplet that says: "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There'll be two winters in the year."
At some point hedgehogs were also used to help predict whether spring would come early.
Hedgehogs are not related to groundhogs. They have different hibernation patterns and are more likely to emerge from hiding in early February.
Groundhog Day came to North America in the 19th century when German settlers living in the current state of Pennsylvania revived the tradition in their new home. Groundhogs became the stand-in for hedgehogs.
The first official Groundhog Day trek near Punxsutawney, Pa. took place in 1888. Today it's the hub of Groundhog Day activities, and Punxsutawney Phil is the most famous of the furry forecasters.
Canada's first groundhog Day took place in Wiarton, Ont. in 1956.
It came about because a local resident wanted to throw a party for his friends and thought Groundhog Day was the perfect excuse. The tradition has evolved and Wiarton Willie is now Canada's leading four-legged prognosticator.
The 1993 release of the movie "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray, brought new attention to the occasion.
The population of Punxsutawney, Pa. is about 6,000. After the movie's release the number of people coming to town for Groundhog Day has been recorded at up to 30,000.
Controversy erupted around Wiarton Willie in 1999 when local Groundhog Day organizers realized that he’d died during his winter hibernation. Feb. 2 saw organizers present onlookers with an open coffin containing the body of a stuffed groundhog.
Condolences poured in, but the unorthodox presentation sparked both criticism and mockery at home and abroad.