Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is celebrated in the United States on Feb. 2 each year. The official Groundhog Day groundhog and ceremony are in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to legend, if the groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, sees his shadow, will will have six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, an early spring is on the way.


The first official Groundhog Day celebration took place on February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. However, the holiday dates back further into the past and across the sea to Europe. Falling midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, February 2 is a significant day in several ancient and modern traditions.
The Celts celebrated February 2 as marking the beginning of spring, giving the name Imbolc to the festival. As Christianity spread through Europe the tradition evolved into what was known as Candlemas, a feast commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the holy temple in Jerusalem. For centuries, clergy members blessed candles and distributed them to people. In certain parts of Europe, Christians believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold and snow.
According to an old English song:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

A Scottish version declares:
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There'll be twa (two) winters in the year

Over time, animals that hibernated through winter were woven into the lore. Germans developed their own version of the legend, pronouncing the day sunny only if hedgehogs saw their own shadows. They pronounced:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May.

When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th Centuries, they brought the custom with them. However, hedgehogs are not native to the United States. Groundhogs, hibernators who resemble hedgehogs, were plentiful in the area and became the new four-legged weather forecaster. The first documented American reference to Groundhog Day can be found in a diary entry dating from 1841.
In 1887, a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney, called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America's only true weather-forecasting groundhog. A tradition was born that has continued until this day.

Groundhog Day Today

On the morning of February 2, people trek to Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, where Phil’s borrow resides. A band of local dignitaries known as the Inner Circle, presides over the ceremony. Its members wear top hats and conduct the official proceedings in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. They like to say that they speak to the groundhog in “Groundhogese.”

In 1993, the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray brought attention to the holiday. Today, as many as 40,000 people converge on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney each February 2 to witness Phil's prediction. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club hosts a three-day celebration featuring entertainment and activities.

Fun Facts About Phil and Groundhog Day

  • The National Climatic Data Center states that Phil's predictions have been correct 39 percent of the time.
  • Though groundhogs typically live only six to eight years, Groundhog Day lore suggests that Phil drinks a magic elixir every summer, which gives him seven more years of life.
  • In Alaska, February 2 is observed as Marmot Day rather than Groundhog Day because few groundhogs exist in the state.
  • A similar custom is celebrated in Serbia on February 15 during the feast of celebration of Sretenje. It is believed that on this day the bear will awake from winter dormancy. If in this sleepy and confused state it sees its own shadow, it becomes startled and will go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging the winter. If it is sunny on Sretenje, it is the sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that winter will end soon.
  • Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks. The woodchuck is a large ground mammal with coarse yellow-brown to black fur, short legs and ears, a blunt nose and bushy tail. A groundhog can weigh between 4 and 14 pounds, with a body of 12-23” and tail 4-10” long.
  • A groundhog can dig a tunnel 5’ long in one day. Its burrow contains a network of tunnels up to 40’ long.
  • Groundhogs begin hibernating as early as September and remain in their burrows for up to six months.
  • Groundhogs eat alfalfa, fruit, clover, flowers, shrubs and garden vegetables.
  • Groundhogs live in pastures, meadows, brushy hillsides and grassy roadsides.
  • Groundhog babies are born blind andhairless, in March and April and are fully independent at 3 months.