Groundhog Day is an American tradition observed every year on February 2nd, which celebrates the weather prediction made by a groundhog.
What is Groundhog Day?
The premise is that every year some time in the morning of this day, a groundhog comes out of its den and if it sees its shadow on the ground and returns into the hole, that means there will be six more weeks of winter from that date. However, if the groundhog does not see its shadow, and stays out of its hole, it means that spring is near, and will arrive early.
Why is Groundhog Day celebrated?
While this tradition may seem odd to some, it does have some meaning and logic behind it. As a hibernating animal, a groundhog coming out of its den is usually a sign that spring is coming. In early times, Europeans used to look for signs of animals who would hibernate during the cold days, to signal that winter was over.
Early February also sits at the midway point between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Equinox. This was the time period during which early Europeans and Romans would have their own rituals, such as Candlemas Day, to establish whether spring was coming, in order to see if their crops could be planted. These celebrations evolved, and Groundhog Day derives from them.
This tradition arrived in America by way of the German settlers in Pennsylvania in the 19th century. Back home, they used to look for hedgehogs as a way to predict what the weather would be like in the coming months. However, the Pennsylvania region was populated with groundhogs, and so, they became the official weather forecaster.
The first known record of people searching for groundhogs to determine the weather happened in the 1880s when a group of friends went into the woods of Punxsutawney looking for groundhogs who were coming out of their dens. This soon became a popular tradition with people in the town, and in 1887 Groundhog Day was officialized. The ceremony remains a popular one until this day. All of the groundhog’s predictions are registered in the Congressional Records of our National Archive.
Groundhog day today
After making this an official tradition in the area, people named the forecasting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil and he is now a local celebrity, who earned even more notoriety around the country after the release of the popular 1993 movie featuring a star-studded cast with the well-known actor Bill Murray playing the lead role. While Phil is the most well-known groundhog, other states have their own mascots, such as Pothole Pete in New York or Buckeye Chuck in Ohio.
Current celebrations of this tradition usually take shape in the way of festivals that draw crowds of around 40,000 people every year. The events are also broadcasted on TV, so people can still watch the ceremonies from home. The most popular celebration is held in Gobbler’s Knob and is hosted by local government officials, who wear top hats and speak in a language they call Groundhogese.
The groundhog’s predictions are not usually taken seriously, but this remains a way to honor cultural traditions. Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow 9 out of 10 times.