The Origins of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day

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Groundhog Day

Every year, on February 2nd, people across the United States and Canada celebrate what might be the strangest and most oddly specific event on the calendar. On that day, nearly the entire continent observes a small furry animal crawl out of its burrow to see whether it will see its shadow or not. According to legend, a shadow will supposedly scare the groundhog back into its hole foretelling six more frigid weeks of winter weather. No shadow means that spring is coming. Predicting the weather may seem like a strange responsibility to put on a small animal in a hole, so I had to ask: who exactly originated the idea?
The holiday began as a very old Christian holiday called Candlemas Day. It was the pivotal midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. On this day, people have their candles blessed at the church in preparation for the rest of winter. It was believed that if this day was sunny and clear, the rest of winter would be long and harsh; if the day was cloudy or rainy, spring would come early.
The Germans were the first to rely on an animal for their forecast. Since hedgehogs and badgers could be found in large numbers across Germany, they were the original choice. Germans originated that if the animal saw its shadow because it was sunny, six more weeks of winter would follow.
When German settlers arrived in Pennsylvania, they carried this tradition with them. However, neither hedgehogs nor badgers could be found in Pennsylvania, so the settlers declared that the groundhog, a similar burrowing animal, would be observed on the holiday. Thus, the modern version of Groundhog Day was born. For many years, this was a beloved local tradition.
In 1886, the tradition was expanded upon for the final time in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club gathered at Gobbler’s Knob and declared that their very own Phil the groundhog was the true weather forecasting animal for America. The tradition soon spread throughout the states as its popularity grew. The tradition has been honored for over a century now with Punxsutawney Phil’s descendant making the 136th prediction this February.
But, has this tradition endured well for over a century? I asked a few students if they celebrate Groundhog Day. Out of the three students I asked, all three reported that they did celebrate the holiday. However, only one student said that they believe in the wisdom of the groundhog.
It seems that the tradition has stayed strong over the decades, even if the magic is seen as more of a playful superstition by today’s population. The holiday continues to thrive as a continent-wide phenomenon making this far from the last time we hear about Phil’s foretelling of winter’s wrap-up.

Abrams, Abigail. “Here’s How Groundhog Day Got Started.” Time, 31 Jan. 2017, time.com/4650202/groundhog-day-history-2.

“Groundhog Day | History, Punxsutawney Phil, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Dec. 2021, www.britannica.com/topic/Groundhog-Day.

“Legend and Lore | Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.” The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, www.groundhog.org/legend-and-lore. Accessed 14 Jan. 2022.