When you hear “Groundhog Day,” you probably think of the famous 1993 Bill Murray film. The official ceremony has occurred every February 2 since 1887 in western Pennsylvania. The movie was set in the famous small town, Punxsutawney, PA, but filmed in Illinois. Groundhog Day is celebrated in the U.S. and Canada (Daks Day). German settlers or the “Pennsylvania Dutch” took this superstition and made it an annual tradition. The groundhog comes out, and their shadow indicates the upcoming “weather.” Winter will persist for six more weeks if the groundhog sees their shadow. Spring arrives earlier if the animal doesn’t see their shadow.
There’s no scientific correlation to Groundhog Day predicting the weather. The tradition is based on superstition by German settlers in Pennsylvania. Early residents of Punxsutawney believed that the badger (Dachs) was a forecasting animal. Originally February 2 was commemorated as Candlemas, a religious holiday related to Christmas. This date falls between the winter and spring equinox. Both day and night have the same length of time on February 2. (German settlers) first labeled it “Badger Day (Dachstag).” Groundhog Day was first documented publicly in 1840. A groundhog (dox) was adopted instead of a badger because they also hibernate.
The Pennsylvania Dutch, through German tradition, focused on a “semi-mythical” animal.” They gave the groundhog the name “Punxsutawney Phil.” In 1886, a local newspaper mentioned Groundhog Day. The following year, an annual ceremony kicked off at Gobbler’s Knob. The event now sees approximately 40,000 people annually from its original 2,000. The movie Groundhog Day truly put Punxsutawney on the map. The small town is 84 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The Delaware Indians came up with the name meaning “town of the sandflies.”
Clymer Freas, the editor of The Punxsutawney Spirit, is the father of Groundhog Day. The town’s Elk Lodge organized the annual celebration in the 1880s. From 1899 through today, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club now orchestrates the festivities. This group was formed in 1887.
Known as the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil lives in the town’s library. “Phil’s Burrow” was built for him to live year-round until he comes out for the annual festival. Celebrations are set up by the Inner Circle, who wear tuxedos and top hats. Guests attending Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day can also enjoy music and food. Two scrolls are prepared for Punxsutawney Phil’s weather prediction. The Inner Circle President reads one scroll to let the world know if we’ll have six more weeks of winter or an early spring.
Punxsutawney Phil has notable achievements and met high-profile figures. Phil met President Reagan in 1986 and was on the Oprah Show in 1995. Danny Rubin, the writer of the movie “Groundhog Day,” attended the festival in 2013. Experts go by the myth that Punxsutawney Phil is “immortal.” The Groundhog Club claims that Phil’s been the same groundhog since the late 1800s. However, these loveable rodents only have an average lifespan of 14 years if well cared for in captivity. So, the question remains has it always been the same groundhog? Is Phil truly immortal, or has he been reincarnated or replaced?
Whether we’re in for six weeks of colder weather or closer to spring, February 2 is known to most. Looking at it positively, we’re halfway through winter officially. However, Punxsutawney Phil may tell us differently. The tradition has deep roots and is meant for a fun celebration that breaks up the seasons. You may fight more accurate sources than a groundhog as far as weather forecasting goes.
This year, Groundhog Day falls the day after Lunar New Year.