Since 1887, Groundhog Day is a day in which predictions are made regarding the remaining days of winter and a long-awaited appearance of spring. The very first Groundhog Day was held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and it featured the rodent meteorologist that we’ve all come to know and love.
However, Groundhog Day wasn’t just a brilliant idea drummed up by bored Pennsylvanians who were clearly tired of winter’s cold. Groundhog Day actually has roots in Candlemas, an ancient Christmas tradition in which clergymen would bless and distribute candles needed by parishioners for winter’s long, cold days and nights. The candles were supposed to represent the length that winter would hang on before spring would bloom.Read More »
Groundhogs are an animal that hibernates. They typically hibernate between late fall and February. During that month, they will come up from their burrows in the hopes of finding a mate. However, they typically return back to their underground burrows for at least another month.
While it is likely the Germans who came to Pennsylvania and brought this tradition with them, it wasn’t until 1887 that a group of groundhog hunters called the Punxsutarwney Groundhog Club actually organized the event. One of their members was a newspaper editor, and he ran an article about how the group’s mascot, whom they had named Phil, would be making predictions about the upcoming spring. In fact, the editor said that Punxsutawney Phil was “America’s only true weather forecasting groundhog,” and that his talents would be displayed in their town at the infamous Gobbler’s Knob on February 2.
Groundhogs related to Phil have been an integral part of the weather-prediction ceremony, which is televised each year.
However, February 2 is a special day, and not just because that’s Groundhog Day. The date falls exactly midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. On this day, the ancient Celts celebrated the day as the beginning of spring. This pagan festival would eventually become Candlemas, which was the blessing of candles described previously.
Candlemas had a few fun predictions of its own. A sunny Candlemas meant there would be another forty days of winter. Christians also celebrated Candlemas as the time when Jesus was presented by his parents at the temple in Jerusalem.
While the German migrants to the United States had brought their Candlemas weather predictions to Pennsylvania with them, the Groundhog Day as we know it was really the brainchild of Clymer Freas. He convinced the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club to host the unveiling of Phil at Gobbler’s Know. Of course, when Phil sees his shadow, that means another six weeks (roughly forty days) of winter.
The annual festival at Gobbler’s Knob is celebrated with many traditions. Attendees wear t-shirts and hats and the “Inner Circle” dresses in garb from the 1800s. The Inner Circle adorn themselves with top hats, and they conduct the ceremony in “Groundhogese,” which is really Dutch that has been handed down by the German ancestors who settled there.
Every year, thousands of people flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to witness the festive occasion.
The tradition of Groundhog Day was forever immortalized in the 1993 Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. In the film, Bill Murray’s character goes to Pennsylvania to cover the unveiling of the groundhog and to hear his prediction. Hearing someone say that a situation feels like groundhog day means that the situation keeps repeating itself, as it does in the film.
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