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Groundhog Day party: Activities and games across the grades

Celebrate Groundhog Day with a bunch of activities, some Internet exploration, and a variety of groundhog games. Fun for all ages! Included: Three Internet teaching masters.

When the first settlers arrived in the area known today as Punxsutawney (Pennsylvania) -- about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh -- they brought with them from Europe a centuries-old tradition known as Candlemas Day. On Candlemas Day, clergy would bless candles and distribute them to the people. The weather on Candlemas Day was considered an important indicator of the weather to come, according to an old English song:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas brings cold and rain,
Go, winter, and come not again.

Long ago, German peoples picked up on the Candlemas custom. If the sun shone on Candlemas Day, the Germans believed, the hedgehog would cast a shadow and another six weeks of winter was inevitable.

A hedgehog stand-in

When the Germans arrived in the Americas, no hedgehogs were to be found. But another similar animal, the groundhog -- or woodchuck -- was here. Believed by the native Indians to be "a wise and sensible animal," the groundhog became a hedgehog stand-in.

So it is that the tradition was born. Today, we call each February 2nd "Groundhog Day." And when one thinks of Groundhog Day, one always thinks first of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania's best-known citizen -- Punxsutawney Phil! If Phil sees his shadow when he comes out of his burrow, we're in for six more weeks of winter weather. Or so the story goes.

A story worth telling

Why not read Groundhog Day history to your students? The story offers many interesting details about the history of this world-renown, annual media event that each year draws thousands of people to Punxsutawney.

More facts of interest:

  • The word "woodchuck" comes from the Indian word Oijik (wejak), or Wojak. Indian lore has it that their forbears began life as animals; the woodchuck was recognized as the "grandfather" of the earliest inhabitants of the area.
  • Early settlers ate woodchuck.
  • Punxsutawney Phil's complete nickname is "The Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary."
  • Promoting Punxsutawney Phil was the idea of the owner of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper. He thought promoting the area would bring more business to develop in the town.
  • Punxsutawney is sometimes called "The Weather Capitol of the World."
  • Punxsutawney Phil has visited the White House and been on Oprah's TV show.
  • The town in which the movie Groundhog Day was filmed isn't really Punxsutawney at all. The movie was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois!

But that's not all!

You'll learn those and many other interesting facts about Groundhog Day if you check out the official Groundhog Day website. But that's not all! You'll find schedules and maps and photos and souvenirs and links to other sites -- and much more. All the makings for a great Groundhog Day celebration.

Start your Groundhog Day celebration with some fun educational activities! Creative teachers will come up with tons of activities to fill out this very special day! The Internet Links below might give you some ideas! Possibilities include poetry writing, timeline, and geography activities....

Let the games begin!

Be sure to set aside a time for some special Groundhog Day activities. Some of these games were compiled by the teachers and staff of West End Elementary School in Phil's hometown -- Punxsutawney. Play games called Hot Dog, Toss the Hog, Groundhog Bingo, or Sshh! Silent Groundhog! There you'll also find the rules for a game called Spring or Snow:

Spring or Snow is an easy game which asks students to try to predict Phil's prediction. Even though the real prediction is known only by Phil, students will have fun trying to outwit Punxsutawney's famous weather prognosticator.

Each student should have two cards -- one depicting a spring scene and one depicting a snowy, winter scene. The teacher should have several spring and winter cards in a bag. After asking the students to make their predictions by holding up the appropriate card, the teacher pulls one card out of her bag. Students whose predictions do not match the teacher's prediction are OUT. The game continues in this fashion until only one student is left. That student is named PHIL'S ASSISTANT WEATHER FORECASTER!

Besides games, the teachers also offer several groundhog songs -- all song to the familiar tunes of popular Christmas tunes. You can find additional lesson ideas in the site's Teacher Corner.

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