Author Bio: Michael Venos is a Groundhog Day Subject Matter Expert and has been a fan of groundhogs since he discovered one in his backyard as a child. He currently maintains the Countdown to Groundhog Day website, a great resource for all things Groundhog Day.
Groundhog Day takes place next week. You’ve probably heard of Groundhog Day, but how much do you really know about this fun holiday? Let’s take a look at how it got started and learn about how it is celebrated today.
Groundhog Day takes place every year on February 2nd, which is the same day as Candlemas. Candlemas is a Christian holiday which came to be associated with determining how severe the rest of the winter would be. In Germany, and other Germanic-speaking areas, there was a belief that if a hibernating animal such as a badger came out on Candlemas, saw its shadow, and then retreated to its burrow, there would be a long winter. If the animal did not see its shadow there would be an early spring. When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania as the Pennsylvania Dutch, they carried this tradition with them, substituting groundhogs, which were plentiful in the area, for badgers. Groundhog Day was thus born.
Arguably the most famous groundhog associated with Groundhog Day is Punxsutawney Phil from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day tradition dates back to 1886, and has grown into a large celebration featuring live music, fireworks, talent contests, and other types of entertainment. This celebration draws in visitors from all over the world, and crowds have been estimated as high as 40,000 in recent years.
Punxsutawney Phil’s annual prediction is of the course the highlight of Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day celebration. Similar to the old Germanic tradition, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow there will be 6 more weeks of winter, if not, there will be an early spring. (Exactly how early is never really specified.)
While groundhogs in captivity on average live between 10-15 years, according to Punxsutawney Groundhog Club lore there has only ever been one Punxsutawney Phil, making him well over 100 years old! Every summer at the Groundhog Picnic, Phil drinks from the ‘elixir of life’, a magic potion which grants him 7 more years of life.
Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day celebration was immortalized on film, when it was featured in the 1993 Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day. The movie was not actually filmed in Pennsylvania, however, but was in fact shot in Woodstock, Illinois. Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis didn’t think that Punxsutawney had a town center that looked good on film, so he searched for another location to film the movie. When he arrived in Woodstock he fell in love with the town square, and decided it would be perfect for the film. After the success of the movie, Woodstock began hosting its own Groundhog Day celebration which takes place annually around the holiday.
Although Punxsutawney Phil is probably the most well-known groundhog, he is hardly the only forecaster who provides a prediction on Groundhog Day. Staten Island Chuck from the Staten Island Zoo in New York, Buckeye Chuck from Marion, Ohio, and Jimmy the Groundhog from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin are a few of the other famous groundhogs in the United States. Canada has groundhogs like Wiarton Willie in Ontario and Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia.
While the groundhogs that provide prognostications on Groundhog Day are often living, sometimes they are not. Pennsylvania Groundhog Lodges have a tradition of using taxidermy mounted groundhogs during their Groundhog Day prediction ceremonies. Poor Richard from The Slumbering Groundhog Lodge of York and Uni from the Union Kanaal Grundsau Lodsch are just two examples.
It’s not just groundhogs that predict the weather on Groundhog Day. Other animals are sometimes used in the same capacity, when a groundhog is not available or as a fun alternative. Clucksatawney Henrietta is a chicken who provides a Groundhog Day forecast at Muscoot Farm in Katonah, New York. If Henrietta lays an egg during the Groundhog Day ceremony there will be an early spring, if not it will be a long winter. Lucy the Lobster emerges from the ocean and looks for her shadow on February 2nd in Barrington Passage, Nova Scotia. Snohomish Slew is the center of the GroundFrog Day Celebration in Washington. If Snohomish Slew croaks during the GroundFrog Day ceremony it means spring will come early.
There are also stuffed animals, mascots, and statues that are provide Groundhog Day predictions each year.
Groundhog Day is mainly celebrated in North America, but there have been reports of Groundhog Day prediction ceremonies in countries such as Russia and Ukraine over the years.
Although Groundhog Day may not be as well-known or celebrated as holidays such as Christmas or Halloween, there’s still plenty of fun activities that you can partake in. You can watch the movie Groundhog Day, you can make groundhog themed cupcakes or cookies, or you can watch a Groundhog Day prediction online or visit one in person.
If you want to learn more about Groundhog Day, you can visit countdowntogroundhogday.com, where you can learn more about the holiday and all of the various weather predicting animals who provide a Groundhog Day forecast. We also have lots of fun Groundhog Day activities such as word searches and puzzles, and even a Groundhog Day forecaster name generator.