The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club has a great question for all of us. The club, which was formed in 1887, asks: “What would you rather be doing in the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter in western Pennsylvania?”

Not content to wait for suggestions, they follow with this option: “How about enjoying the ambiance of the brisk night air with thousands of new friends by your side, waiting for the Seer of Seers, Punxsutawney Phil, to make his prognostication?”

This club, whose inner circle consists of a dozen or so top-hatted men responsible for their town’s celebration of Groundhog Day and care for the famous Punxsutawney Phil, lays claim to originating the tradition of Groundhog Day on Feb. 2 in the United States. In 1886, the first newspaper reference to this seasonal event was observed.

The mammal-featuring holiday, surprisingly enough, traces its origins to both Pagan and Christian ones. Christians celebrate Candlemas Day, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus, which came annually on Feb. 2, and was an opportunity for them to take their candles to church to have them blessed. These sanctified candles were believed to bring blessings to the household and its residents for the year.

Go back further and Candlemas was a party for Brigantia, Celtic goddess of light, whose big day came halfway between winter solstice and the spring equinox. Another name, Imbolc or lamb’s milk, identified this time of lambing. There are four of these so-called cross quarter days through the year that mark the days that fall between equinoxes and solstices.

The lyrics of an old English folk song connect the Christian holiday to a weather element:

If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again.

Somehow all of these historic and religious celebrations evolved into an event that has a decidedly curious weather-forecasting mammal.

An animal entered the picture at some point in Germany, when both hedgehogs and badgers were employed as the weather-reporting beast. A German proverb explains, “The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemas Day and if he finds snow he walks abroad, but if he sees the sun he draws back in his hole.”

German settlers brought their tradition of predicting a second winter if the animal saw its shadow on Candlemas Day, but chose the groundhog as their seasonal soothsayer.

The groundhog weather-predicting practice spread across the country, and many communities developed their own famous forecasters and territorial traditions.

Pennsylvania still has Punxsatawny Phil, but there are many other prognosticating groundhogs. Alabama has Birmingham Bill, Georgia employs General Lee, Nebraska asks Unadilla Bill, New York inquires of Staten Island Chuck, Ohio beseeches Buckeye Chuck, Vermont has Peewee, and Wisconsin’s oracle’s name is Jimmy. And locally, there is Ms. G.

Thanks to a 2014 class of 4th graders from Hunnewell Elementary School, Massachusetts has its own state groundhog. Their campaign elevated Drumlin Farm’s groundhog, Ms. G, to star status when she gained her official title after the passage of the Ms. G Bill H.2864. Can’t wait to see what she predicts on Sunday.

The Island has its own tradition. Many of us will be celebrating Groundhog Day Vineyard-style at the 32nd Annual Groundhog Day Celebration at Cynthia Rigg’s West Tisbury home, which also kicks off the local political season.

No matter where you will be, which animal you will be watching or what weather predictions result, take heart knowing that forecasting is still a risky and imprecise business. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle gives Phil a 100 per cent success rate, while Ms. G’s web page suggests Phil’s success rate is more like 30 per cent, while her own is 64 per cent accuracy. A battle of the sexes and forecasters for this cross-quarter day.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.