This holiday is commemorated on February 2, on which Americans observe the groundhog emerge from its winter burrow to predict the remaining time of the winter season. If the groundhog returns to its burrow, folklore states that winter will last six more weeks. If the groundhog stays, it is believed that spring will come early. Many towns commemorate the holiday with festivals and gatherings to watch the groundhog.
The most famous groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog of the holiday. He is named after the town that its home, Gobbler’s Knob, is close by. Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, holds many events and ceremonies for Groundhog Day.
In ancient times, Germanic peoples believed that badgers had the ability to predict the weather, using this knowledge to plant crops. Even after communities stopped believing in the badger’s power to predict, tradition kept the practice alive.
Many German settlers ended up in Pennsylvania, where they found groundhogs instead of badgers. Here, the tradition began to use groundhogs to predict the duration of winter. If the day was cloudy, the groundhog would stay above ground, meaning that winter would soon be over. If the day was sunny, the groundhog would grow scared of its shadow and return to its burrow, meaning six more weeks of winter. It gradually evolved into an observance in the late nineteenth century and is closely associated with the Candlemas, a Christian celebration, the second day of which falls on February 1st.
Groundhog Day Events
Many towns, especially in Pennsylvania, hold local Groundhog Day events. These include:
- Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania celebration: this small town holds a ball a few days before Groundhog Day and receives a crowd of over 40,000 for the event. Observing Punxsutawney Phil emerging from his burrow is often televised. Punxsutawney has observed the holiday officially since 1886. This most famous groundhog actually lives at Gobbler’s Knob, a park just outside of Punxsutawney.
- In Quarryville, PA, citizens at the Slumbering Lodge combine Groundhog Day festivities with Fersommling, an event that includes food and speeches. Only the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect can be spoken, and speakers of any other language are fined. This celebration includes Punxsutawney’s rival, Octoraro Orphie, whose followers claim is more reliable and also less concerned with fame.
- Merges with German or Dutch culture. Many Groundhog Day celebrations are centered on a celebration of German or Dutch culture, since the day’s origins are rooted in German folklore. The groundhog’s prediction is not necessarily taken seriously, but rather used to hold celebrations of culture that used to take the predictions to heart.