Ain’t Nothin’ But A Groundhog

Ain’t Nothin’ But A Groundhog

Groundhog Day is known as February 2: the day an unassuming groundhog has the ability to forecast the next six weeks of weather (and, to many, a classic movie from the ‘90s starring Bill Murray). Although the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club calls it “a day to take everything a little less seriously,” there is surprisingly some logic behind how this annual event started.

As February 2 falls halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox, many ancient cultures held celebrations at this time to mark the beginning of spring. The Celts celebrated with a pagan festival known as Imbolc on February 1 and 2. According to Gaelic legend, February 1 is the day that Cailleach, the goddess of winter, would set out to gather firewood for the rest of the season. If it was a sunny day, she would easily be able to complete her task. If the weather was unfavorable, she wouldn’t be able to leave her house and the winter would soon end.

Imbolc soon evolved into a celebration called Candlemas as Christianity expanded. In some parts of Europe, they believed a sunny Candlemas meant 40 more days of winter. Germany evolved this idea, claiming the day as sunny only if hedgehogs and other small animals saw their shadow. When Germans settled Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they carried on this tradition, but chose the native equivalent—the groundhog—as the star subject.

The first official Groundhog Day event took place on February 2, 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, when local newspaper editor Clymer Freas boldly claimed that Punxsutawney Phil was the official weather-predicting groundhog of America. Today the tradition continues as thousands of spectators pour into Gobbler’s Knob every year to see if Phil will see his shadow. Despite the fact he is reportedly correct in his forecast only 39% percent of the time, we in Pennsylvania and the 30,000 people that travel to Punxsutawney every year will hold on to any far-fetched hope that spring is showing up early.

Fun Facts

• Groundhogs are the largest animal in the squirrel family, typically weighing 13 pounds and growing up to 24 inches with a 9.75-inch tail.

• Although groundhogs live up to 10 years in captivity, legend has it that Punxsutawney Phil is 133 years old thanks to a magical potion he drinks every summer.

• Punxsutawney further celebrates its claim to fame with 32 6-foot tall fiberglass statues of groundhogs throughout the town known as “The Phantastic Phils.” Created by artists from all over the state, each is sponsored by a different business or organization and has a unique theme and name.

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