LookingBack Jan. 31

Originally, the celebration of Candlemas honored the Purification of Mary after the birth of Jesus. It is also marks the end of the Christmas season (40 days after Christmas) and the presentation of Jesus at the temple. In Europe, Candlemas was combined with the ancient pagan candlelighting ceremonies to rejuvenate the fields before planting. The custom was brought to America by German settlers who believed that all hibernating animals came out to check on the weather. If the animal saw his shadow, six more weeks of bad (cold) weather would follow and the animal would go back to sleep. No shadow must then mean that winter was waning and mild days were ahead. And so, that is how and why Groundhog Day came to be celebrated on the second day of February, the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Punxsutawney Phil

* In 1887, Clymer H. Freas was the editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper. He wrote a story about a group of groundhog hunters and the great barbecue that followed. The writer referred to the group as the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club and as the story was embellished in the retelling. ... Punxsutawney Phil became the official forecaster.

* Punxsutawney Phil is the official weather prognosticator for the United States. Each Groundhog Day, the animal is coaxed outside on a cold morning in Pennsylvania to give the upcoming forecast.

* Festivities begin in Punxsutawsey, Pa. a day or more before Feb. 2 and feature activities such as a chili cook-off, ice carving, trivia contests, the Prognosticator's Ball, weddings, sleigh rides, woodchuck whittling, scavenger hunt, music and food.

* Today, Punxsutawsey Phil lives in a climate-controlled habitat adjoining the public library. The day of the celebration, the groundhog is taken to Gobbler's Knob and placed in a heated burrow beneath a simulated tree stump before making his 7:25 a.m. appearance.

* If you can't make it to see Punxsutawsey Phil in person, most major television stations across the country broadcast the official ceremony. If you happen to be in New York City, it can be seen on the big screen in Times Square.

* Phil is reputed by townspeople to be over 100 years old, surviving beyond the normal life span of a groundhog thanks to his wife, Phyllis and a steady diet of Groundhog Punch. The average lifespan, however, of a groundhog is up to six years in the wild and as much as 20-25 years in captivity.

In Georgia...

* Gen. Beauregard Lee, Ph.D., Georgia's official weather prognosticator, lives at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn.

* Gen. Beau Lee has a 94 percent accuracy rate while his pampered Northern cousin Phil has only managed 85 percent.

* Beau has been recognized for his public service to America by four Georgia governors and has twice been commended for his accuracy by the National Weather Service.

* Beau appeared on "The Today Show" with Willard Scott during the Democratic Convention in 1988. Animal Planet featured the General on Groundhog Day 2004.

* On the big day, Gen. Beau Lee, Ph.D. is awakened by the ringing of bells outside his "Weathering Height" mansion where he lives all year in touch with the elements.

Other places have their own weather forecasters. Here is a partial list:

* Chuck Wood - Stickney, Ill.

* Holland Huckleberry - Holland, Ohio

* Wairton Willie (an albino) - South Bruce Peninsula Ontario, Canada

* Chilly Charlie - Woodstock, Ontario, Canada

* Spike -Duluth, Minn.

* Mr. Prozac - Oxford, Mich.

* Florida Phyllis - Apopka, Fla.

* Sir Walter Wally - Raleigh, N.C.

* Birmingham Bill - Birmingham, Ala.

This 'n That

* Groundhog and woodchuck are common terms for the same animal. Its closest relative is the squirrel. The average size of a groundhog is between 17 and 26 inches long with a weight of 5-9 pounds.

* Groundhogs can climb trees, if needed, to escape an enemy and they also can swim.

* During hibernation, groundhogs survive off the gorging done in the warm months. Their metabolism is greatly reduced and the body temperature drops to about 40 degrees.

* The winter burrow of a groundhog is deep enough to be below the frost line, allowing for a good winter's rest.

* In the spring, female groundhogs usually have a litter of about six babies, which stay with the mother for several months.

* Groundhogs in the wild eat succulent green plants, such as dandelion greens, clover and grasses. The diet may also include fruits and some tree bark. They are greatly tempted by fresh garden vegetables.

"Groundhog Day" - the movie

The film features Bill Murray, a grouchy weatherman named Phil who hates almost everything. Forced to cover the Groundhog Day activities, again, he is not a happy camper. Phil is even less happy to find the day repeating itself over and over again. Here is a bit of trivia about the very popular movie.

* The movie was filmed in Woodstock, Ill.

* Bill Murray was bitten by the groundhog twice during the filming.

* According to the director of the film, Harold Ramis, most of the time he tried to explain a scene to Murray, he would just interrupt and say, "Just tell me. Good Phil or bad Phil?"

* In the Jeopardy sequence, the second player seen is Jim Scott. He went on to be a five-time champion and also won the Tournament of Champions.

* In June 2008, this film was rated No. 8 on the American Film Institute's 10 greatest films in the genre of fantasy.

* There are exactly 38 days depicted in the film either partially or in full.

Just one more thing...

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

By measuring the inside volume of a typical woodchuck (groundhog) burrow, wildlife biologists estimate that -- if wood filled the hole instead of dirt -- the industrious animal would have chucked about 700 pounds worth.