Groundhog Day facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsGroundhog Day
Groundhog Day 2005 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
|Significance||Predicts the arrival of spring|
|Celebrations||Announcing whether a groundhog sees its shadow after it emerges from its burrow|
Groundhog Day is a popular North American tradition observed in the United States and Canada on February 2. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks; but if it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early.
While the tradition remains popular in modern times, studies have found no consistent correlation between a groundhog seeing its shadow and the subsequent arrival time of spring-like weather.
The weather lore was brought from German-speaking areas where the badger (German: Dachs) is the forecasting animal. This appears to be an enhanced version of the lore that clear weather on the Christian festival of Candlemas forebodes a prolonged winter.
The Groundhog Day ceremony held at Punxsutawney in western Pennsylvania, centering on a semi-mythical groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, has become the most frequently attended ceremony. Grundsow Lodges in Pennsylvania Dutch Country in the southeastern part of the state observe the occasion as well. Other cities in the United States and Canada also have adopted the event.
The Pennsylvania Dutch were immigrants from Germanic-speaking areas of Europe. The Germans already had a tradition of marking Candlemas (February 2) as "Badger Day" (Dachstag), where if a badger emerging found it to be a sunny day thereby casting a shadow, it foreboded the prolonging of winter by four more weeks.
Candlemas is a primarily Catholic festival but also known in the German Protestant (Lutheran) churches. In folk religion, various traditions and superstitions continue to be linked with the holiday, although this was discouraged by the Protestant Reformers in the 16th century. Notably, several traditions akin to weather lores use Candlemas' weather to predict the start of spring.
The weather-predicting animal on Candlemas usually was the badger, although regionally the animal was the bear or the fox. The original weather-predicting animal in Germany had been the bear, another hibernating mammal, but when they grew scarce the lore became altered.
Similarity to the groundhog lore has been noted for the German formula "Sonnt sich der Dachs in der Lichtmeßwoche, so geht er auf vier Wochen wieder zu Loche" (If the badger sunbathes during Candlemas-week, for four more weeks he will be back in his hole). A slight variant is found in a collection of weather lore (bauernregeln, lit. "farmers' rules") printed in Austria in 1823.
Groundhog as badger
So the same tradition as the Germans, except that winter's spell would be prolonged for six weeks instead of four, was maintained by the Pennsylvanians on Groundhog Day. In Germany, the animal was dachs or badger. For the Pennsylvania Dutch, it became the dox which in Deitsch referred to "groundhog".
The standard term for "groundhog" was grun′daks (from German dachs), with the regional variant in York County being grundsau, a direct translation of the English name, according to a 19th-century book on the dialect. The form was a regional variant according to one 19th century source. However, the weather superstition that begins "Der zwet Hær′ning is Grund′sau dåk. Wânn di grundau îr schâtte sent ... ("February second is Groundhog day. If the groundhog sees its shadow ...)" is given as common to all 14 counties in Dutch Pennsylvania Country, in a 1915 monograph.
In The Thomas R. Brendle Collection of Pennsylvania German Folklore, Brendle preserved the following lore from the local Pennsylvania German dialect:
Wann der Dachas sei Schadde seht im Lichtmess Marye, dann geht er widder in's Loch un beleibt noch sechs Woche drin. Wann Ilchtmess Marye awwer drieb is, dann bleibt der dachs haus un's watt noch enanner Friehyaahr. (When the groundhog sees his shadow on the morning of February 2, he will again go into his hole and remain there for six weeks. But if the morning of February 2 is overcast, the groundhog will remain outside and there will be another spring.)
The form grundsow has been used by the lodge in Allentown and elsewhere. Brendle also recorded the name "Grundsaudag" (Groundhog day in Lebanon County) and "Daxdaag" (Groundhog day in Northampton County).
Victor Hugo, in "Les Misérables," (1864) discusses the day as follows:
"...it was the second of February, that ancient Candlemas-day whose treacherous sun, the precursor of six weeks of cold, inspired Matthew Laensberg with the two lines, which have deservedly become classic:
'Qu'il luise ou qu'il luiserne, L'ours rentre en sa caverne.'
(Let it gleam or let it glimmer, The bear goes back into his cave.)"
– Hugo, Victor. "Les Misérables." Trans. Fahnestock and MacAfee, based on Wilbour. Signet Classics, NY, 1987. p. 725.
The groundhog was once also known by the obsolete Latin alias Arctomys monax. The genus name signified "bear-rat". The European marmot is of the same genus and was formerly called Arctomys alpinus. It was speculated that the European counterpart might have lore similar to the groundhog attached to it.
Simpler Candlemas lore
The German version, with the introduction of the badger (or other beasts) was an expansion on a more simple tradition that if the weather was sunny and clear on Candlemas Day people expected winter to continue. The simpler version is summarized in the English (Scots dialect) couplet that runs "If Candlemas is fair and clear / There'll be twa winters in the year", with equivalent phrases in French and German. And the existence of a corresponding Latin couplet has been suggested as evidence of the great antiquity of this tradition.
The use of candles on the Christian Candlemas was inspired by the Roman rite for the goddess Februa, in which a procession of candles was done on February 2, according to Yoder. The Roman calendar, in turn, had Celtic origins. Candlemas concurs with Imbolc, one of the Celtic 'cross-quarter days', the four days which marked the midpoints between solstice and equinox.
British and Gaelic calendars
Scholar Rhys Carpenter in 1946 emphasized that the Badger Day tradition was strong in Germany, but absent in the British Isles, and he referred to this as a reason that the U.S. Groundhog Day was not brought by immigrants from these places.
There did exist a belief among Roman Catholics in Britain that the hedgehog predicted the length of winter, or so it has been claimed, but without demonstration of its age, in a publication by the Scotland-born American journalist Thomas C. MacMillan in 1886, and American writer/journalist Samuel Adams Drake's book published in 1900.
In the Gaelic calendar of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, Brigid's Day (February 1) is a day for predicting the weather. While in Scotland the animal that heralds spring on this day is a snake, and on the Isle of Man a large bird, in Ireland folklorist Kevin Danaher records lore of hedgehogs being observed for this omen:
In Irish folk tradition St. Brighid's Day, 1 February, is the first day of Spring, and thus of the farmer's year. ... To see a hedgehog was a good weather sign, for the hedgehog comes come out of the hole in which he has spent the winter, looks about to judge the weather, and returns to his burrow if bad weather is going to continue. If he stays out, it means that he knows the mild weather is coming.
The observance of Groundhog Day in the United States first occurred in German communities in Pennsylvania, according to known records. The earliest mention of Groundhog Day is an entry on February 2, 1840, in the diary of James L. Morris of Morgantown, in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, according to the book on the subject by Don Yoder. This was a Welsh enclave but the diarist was commenting on his neighbors who were of German stock.
The first reported news of a Groundhog Day observance was arguably made by the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, in 1886: "up to the time of going to press, the beast has not seen its shadow". However, it was not until the following year in 1887 that the first Groundhog Day considered "official" was commemorated there, with a group making a trip to the Gobbler's Knob part of town to consult the groundhog. People have gathered annually at the spot for the event ever since.
Clymer Freas (1867–1942) who was city editor at the Punxsutawney Spirit is credited as the "father" who conceived the idea of "Groundhog Day". It has also been suggested that Punxsutawney was where all the Groundhog Day events originated, from where it spread to other parts of the United States and Canada.
The Groundhog Day celebrations of the 1880s were carried out by the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge. The lodge members were the "genesis" of the Groundhog Club formed later, which continued the Groundhog Day tradition. But the lodge started out being interested in the groundhog as a game animal for food. It had started to serve groundhog at the lodge, and had been organizing a hunting party on a day each year in late summer.
The chronologies given are somewhat inconsistent in the literature. The first "Groundhog Picnic" was held in 1887 according to one source, but given as post-circa-1889 by a local historian in a journal. The historian states that around 1889 the meat was served in the lodge's banquet, and the organized hunt started after that.
Either way, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club was formed in 1899, and continued the hunt and "Groundhog Feast", which took place annually in September. The "hunt" portion of it became increasingly a ritualized formality, because the practical procurement of meat had to occur well ahead of time for marinating. A drink called the "groundhog punch" was also served. The flavor has been described as a "cross between pork and chicken". The hunt and feast did not attract enough outside interest, and the practice discontinued.
The groundhog was not named Phil until 1961, possibly as an indirect reference to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 gather each year (nearly eight times the year-round population of the town). The average draw had been about 2,000 until the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, which is set at the festivities in Punxsutawney, after which attendance rose to about 10,000. The official Phil is pretended to be a supercentenarian, having been the same forecasting beast since 1887.
In 2019, the 133rd year of the tradition, the groundhog was summoned to come out at 7:25 am on February 2, but did not see its shadow. Fans of Punxsutawney Phil awaited his arrival starting at 6:00 am, thanks to a live stream provided by Visit Pennsylvania. The live stream has been a tradition for the past several years, allowing more people than ever to watch the animal meteorologist.
2021 was the 135th, and for the first time, much of the Inner Circle members were required to wear a mask. The groundhog was summoned at 7:25 am on February 2 and saw its shadow. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony was held behind closed doors, with no fans allowed to attend.
The Slumbering Groundhog Lodge, which was formed in 1907, has carried out the ceremonies that take place in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. It used to be a contending rival to Punxsutawney over the Groundhog Day fame. It employs a taxidermic specimen (stuffed woodchuck).
In Southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g'spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl in the center of the table.
In Milltown, New Jersey, Milltown Mel predicts the weather at the American Legion in an early morning ceremony. The event has gained much attention and each year grows larger and larger. During weekdays, people will often attend before school or work. Coffee and Doughnuts are donated by the event's sponsor Bronson & Guthlein Funeral Home. Mel is housed year round at the funeral home. She has an outdoor area as well as an indoor, climate controlled, cage. She is cared for by the owner of Bronson and one of his tenents, who is a volunteer EMT with the local rescue squad.
In the Midwest, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, is the self-proclaimed "Groundhog Capital of the World". This title taken in response to The Punxsutawney Spirit's 1952 newspaper article describing Sun Prairie as a "remote two cow village buried somewhere in the wilderness..." In 2015, Jimmy the Groundhog bit the ear of Mayor Jon Freund and the story quickly went viral worldwide. The next day a mayoral proclamation absolved Jimmy XI of any wrongdoing.
Staten Island Chuck is the official weather-forecasting woodchuck for New York City. Dunkirk Dave (a stage name for numerous groundhogs that have filled the role since 1960) is the local groundhog for Western New York, handled by Bob Will, a typewriter repairman who runs a rescue shelter for groundhogs.
In Washington, D.C., the Dupont Circle Groundhog Day event features Potomac Phil, another taxidermic specimen. From his first appearance in 2012 to 2018, Phil's spring predictions invariably agreed with those of the more lively Punxsutawney Phil, who made his predictions half an hour earlier. In addition, Phil always predicted correctly six more months of political gridlock. However, after being accused of collusion in 2018, Potomac Phil contradicted Punxsutawney Phil in 2019 and, further, predicted two more years of political insanity.
In Raleigh, NC, an annual event at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences includes Sir Walter Wally. According to museum officials, Wally has been correct 58% of the time vs. Punxsutawney Phil's 39%.
Elsewhere in the American South, the General Beauregard Lee makes predictions from Lilburn, Georgia (later Butts County, Georgia). The University of Dallas in Irving, Texas has boasted of hosting the second largest Groundhog celebration in the world.
The day is observed with various ceremonies at other locations in North America beyond the United States.
Due to Nova Scotia's Atlantic Time Zone, Shubenacadie Sam makes the first Groundhog Day prediction in North America. "Daks Day" (from the German dachs) is Groundhog Day in the dialect of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
In French Canada, where the day is known as French: Jour de la marmotte, Fred la marmotte of Val-d'Espoir has been the representative forecaster for the province of Quebec since 2009. A study also shows that in Quebec, the marmot or groundhog (French: siffleux) are regarded as Candlemas weather-predicting beasts in some scattered spots, but the bear is the more usual animal.
Wiarton Willie forecasts annually from Wiarton, Ontario.
Balzac Billy is the "Prairie Prognosticator", a man-sized groundhog mascot who prognosticates weather on Groundhog's Day from Balzac, Alberta.
In Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil has become a popular tradition. On February 2, people within the city will gather to find out whether or not Phil's shadow is revealed. With that, he will allegedly determine whether spring will soon begin by not seeing his shadow, or if winter will ensue for six more weeks.
In Croatia and Serbia, Orthodox Christians have a tradition that on February 2 (Candlemas) or February 15 (Sretenje, The Meeting of the Lord), the bear will awaken from winter dormancy, and if it sees (meets) its own shadow in this sleepy and confused state, it will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging the winter. Thus, if it is sunny on Sretenje, it is a sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that the winter is about to end.
Similarly in Germany, on the June 27, they recognize the Seven Sleepers' Day (Siebenschläfertag). If it rains that day, the rest of summer is supposedly going to be rainy. As well, in the United Kingdom, July 15 is known as St. Swithin's day. It was traditionally believed that, if it rained on that day, it would rain for the next 40 days and nights.
The holiday gained more prominence with the release of the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. The movie became the 13th highest grossing of the year, with over $70 million at the box office. Over time, the movie became a cult classic and significantly increased awareness and attendance at Groundhog Day events.
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