Groundhog Day is February 2nd of every year. According to legend, if the groundhog comes out of his burrow on February 2nd and sees his shadow, there will be 6 more weeks of winter. If the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, then spring is near.
- Punxsutawney Phil:
Punxsutawney Phil is probably one of the most famous groundhogs. Punxsutawney is in Pennsylvania and has become known as the “Home of the Groundhog,” by many. Before there was Punxsutawney Phil, there was Punxsutawney Pete, who was also a prognosticating groundhog. On average, groundhogs live about 6 years. It is unknown how many Phil’s and/or Pete’s there may have been. However, Punxsutawney representatives claim that Punxsutawney Phil has been around since 1887 and is the original groundhog. The first Groundhog Day happened on February 2, 1887, at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
- Candlemas Day:
The original Groundhog Day was called Candlemas Day. Ancient Christians would receive candles from clergy in the winter. Clergy members would bless the candles and give them to community members. The weather on Candlemas Day represented how long and cold the winter would be. The English had the following Candlemas Day saying: “If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, winter will have another bite. If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.”
- The Tradition Comes to Pennsylvania:
Germans Christians added to this tradition by choosing the hedgehog as their representative to aid in weather prediction. German settlers came to America and brought their hedgehog tradition to Pennsylvania. Due to the prevalence of groundhogs, however, the hedgehog was replaced by the groundhog—an animal that was plentiful in Pennsylvania.
- All About Groundhogs:
Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks or whistle pigs. While Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds, the average groundhog/woodchuck weighs between 12 and 15 pounds. Their life expectancy is about 6-8 years. They are primarily vegetarians, preferring fruits and vegetables. Groundhogs go into hibernation in late fall and come out for good in March. When in trouble, a groundhog can swim or climb a tree. They are typically 16-26 inches in length.
- Do They Really Look for Their Shadow?
Groundhog mating season begins in February. After months of hibernation, the male groundhog comes out of his burrow to search for a mate—not to look for his own shadow. They then go underground once again, until their appearance in March. Baby groundhogs appear in late-April or May. The arrival of male groundhogs above ground seems to be the origin of the popularized myth of the groundhog and its shadow.
- True Hibernation:
The hibernation of groundhogs is less like a long nap and more like a coma. During hibernation, the heartbeat of the groundhog slows to about 5 beats a minute. In non-hibernation times, their heart beats about 80 beats per minute. While hibernating, they can lose up to 30% of their body fat and their body temperature can drop significantly, to just a few degrees above freezing.
- Friends of Phil:
Canada celebrates Groundhog Day on February 2nd, also. Canada’s groundhog is named Wiarton Willie. There are others. Nova Scotia’s groundhog is Shubenacadie Sam. Birmingham Bill is from Staten Island. Groundhogs are not alone, however. Celtics believed the badger could predict the weather. Brits believed cats had weather divining abilities. The Wooly Bear Caterpillars are also thought to be weather predictors. If their middle, brown segment is wider, it is thought that spring is around the corner and if the segments are fewer (the segment is narrow), this predicts a longer winter. In Alaska, where very few groundhogs can be found, the holiday is called Marmot Day.
- Why February 2nd?
Why exactly is Groundhog Day on February 2nd every year? February 2nd is right in the middle, between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In ancient Rome, a seasonal festival was put on annually on February 5th. Irish observers had a similar festival on February 1st. February may be the month that traditionally indicates spring is coming soon and the month when farmers may begin planting their crops. The beginning of February was also a significant observance in many pagan religions.
- Groundhog Day the Movie:
The movie Groundhog Day came out in 1993. It was a comedy, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. In the movie, newscaster Phil Conners comes to Punxsutawney cover the Groundhog Day festivities. Grouchy, selfish Phil Conners gets stuck in a loop of having repeat the same day over and over. After repeating the same day over and over. It has been suggested that the Groundhog Day loop lasts about 10 years, however, these estimates vary widely. Finally, the Groundhog Day repeat is broken and February 3rd finally comes about. The significance of the movie today is that the term, “Groundhog Day” has become to be synonymous with something that repeats over and over.
- The Punxsutawney Festival:
Since the movie Groundhog Day was released in 1993, the already popular celebration in Punxsutawney has grown to annual attendance in the thousands. Every year, thousands of tourists descend on Gobbler’s Knob to hear Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast. The festival now begins on January 31st and continues through February 2nd. According to accounts, Phil whispers his predictions into Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Club’s ear in Groundhognese, which is then translated for the rest of the world.