Groundhog Day: A History

Henry, Staff Writer

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You may have heard of a Groundhog/Woodchuck/Whistle Pig, a furry mammal that looks like a rat-beaver-platypus-mole hybrid, and you may have heard of Groundhog day, in which this large ground squirrel becomes the most famous meteorologist in America. The common belief is that if the Groundhog sees its shadow, then winter will last for six more weeks. However, if the Groundhog doesn’t see its shadow, then spring will come early that year.

The first American record of Groundhog Day, called “Candlemas,” dates back to 1841. So Groundhog Day was around before the Civil War! Now that’s old! It was presumably brought across the Atlantic by German immigrants to Pennsylvania. Indeed, the most elaborate celebrations today occur in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Candlemas day was celebrated by early Christians in Europe, and was halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Although it was popular in Germany, it was also celebrated in England and Scotland. One Scottish poem reads:

If Candlemas is bright and clear,

There’ll be two winters in the year

While a German one goes:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,

So far will the snow swirl until May

For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,

So far will the sun shine before May

These poems stem from the belief that a bright and sunny February 2nd meant six more weeks of winter, while a snowy day meant an early spring.

According to the website, “Pennsylvania’s official celebration of Groundhog Day began on February 2nd, 1886 with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper’s editor, Clymer Freas: ‘Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.’  The groundhog was given the name ‘Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary’ and his hometown thus called the ‘Weather Capital of the World.’ His debut performance: no shadow – early Spring.”

Because there are so many Groundhogs all over the country, the Groundhog Day predictions vary considerably. For example, on February 2nd of this year, the Philadelphia Groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, predicted six more weeks of winter, while a Groundhog from Connecticut predicted that Spring would come early this year.

Now that March has come to a close, Phil’s prediction has proven true, with Snowstorm Stella whipping its way through New England in mid-March. This is not so for every year, but with dozens of Groundhogs around America becoming star meteorologists every February, at least one of them has to be right.


Interesting Fact:

Groundhog Day rocketed to stardom with the 1990s movie, Groundhog Day, about a skeptical, almost dogmatic TV reporter who ends up reliving the same day over and over again. Naturally, this is Groundhog Day (If you guessed that right, you win a cookie!), and the movie will soon go on Broadway with Groundhog Day: The Musical.

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Groundhog Day: A History