It’s that time of year … when the nation waits with bated breath for a giant rodent to tell us when spring will arrive. Famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow this morning to deliver his highly anticipated forecast. But don’t get too excited – he’s usually wrong.
February 2 of every year marks the halfway mark between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, which means the days will now start getting longer, the temperature will gradually start to rise and another Winter will soon be behind us! The day also brings what seems a rather silly tradition – thousands of people gather at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to see if a groundhog will see his shadow. Known as “Punxsutawney Phil,” the groundhog emerges from his simulated tree trunk home to look for his shadow. According to legend, if Phil sees his shadow the United States is in store for six more weeks of winter weather. But, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, the country should expect winter to subside and look forward to spring arriving early. Punxsutawney is not the only city in the U.S. that engages in this tradition, but it is the most well-known and attracts thousands of visitors to the town every year. Below are some other facts and trivia about this silly but fun holiday:
European Folklore and Candlemas: Groundhog Day originates from European folk traditions, where a badger was used as a forecaster to help them determine when to plant their crops. By the time the first immigrants settled in Pennsylvania they probably understood that badgers weren’t very good weather forecasters but the tradition continued nonetheless, probably due to its deep cultural roots. The Pennsylvania Dutch were immigrants from German-speaking areas of Europe. The Germans already had a tradition of marking Candlemas – a primarily Catholic festival marked on February 2, but also known in the German Protestant church – as “Badger Day” (Dachstag), where if a badger emerging found it to be a sunny day thereby casting a shadow, it predicted the prolonging of winter by four more weeks. Notably, several weather lore traditions use the weather on Candlemas to predict the start of spring. One French lore says that if it rains on Candlemas, there will be forty more days of rain. English traditional weather lore recites, “If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, Winter won’t come again.”
From Badgers to Groundhogs: The tradition of using a groundhog in the U.S. came from Clymer H. Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper who was inspired by a group of local groundhog hunters that went into the woods every Candlemas Day to look for groundhogs. The hunters started out being interested in the groundhog as a game animal for food. They had started serving groundhog at their lodge and organized a hunting party on a day each year in late summer. Freas dubbed them the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” and, starting in 1887, the search became an official event centered on a groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil and his “weather predictions.” Unfortunately for the groundhog, in those days, the annual event usually culminated with the weather forecaster being served and eaten as a main entrée.
Punxsutawny Phil: According to the lore, there is only one Phil, and all other groundhogs are impostors. It is claimed that this one groundhog has lived to make weather prognostications since 1886, sustained by drinks of “groundhog punch” or “elixir of life” administered at the annual Groundhog Picnic in the fall. But since groundhogs only live up to six years, we’re not so sure about that one. The groundhog’s full name is actually “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather-Prophet Extraordinary.” It was so proclaimed by the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” in 1887, the same year they declared Punxsutawney to be the weather capital of the world. Phil also has a wife, Phyllis. However, she doesn’t receive the “elixir of life” so she will not live forever like Phil! Visitors to Gobbler’s Knob can actually see Phil all year round from the viewing window outside his climate-controlled “burrow.”
Groundhog Day the Movie: “Groundhog Day,” which was released in 1993, features Bill Murray as a TV meteorologist who finds himself stuck reliving the same day – Groundhog Day – in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The movie popularized the usage of “groundhog day” to mean something that is repeated over and over. (Sources: Groundhog.org, Wikipedia, Time and Date)