Groundhog Day offers a touch of whimsy during the often bleak midwinter chill. Across the country, eager celebrants await a rascally rodent to determine if there will be six more weeks of winter or if the nation will receive an early reprieve from the cold.
It is fun to guess if an early spring is coming, and even more so to rely on a large ground squirrel to play meteorologist. To further enhance the Groundhog Day experience, burrow into these interesting facts about the holiday and the animal itself.
The world can thank the Germans for the Groundhog Day tradition. The see-his-shadow concept was adapted from a German Candlemas Day tradition in which clergymen would bless the candles they needed for the cold season. If the candles brought a sunny day, there would be six more weeks of winter. However, clouds and rain signified that winter would end soon. Germans who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s brought the custom to America.
Germans once used a hedgehog as their animal forecaster. When relocating to Pennsylvania, groundhogs were used because they were more common than hedgehogs.
Punxsutawney Phil is perhaps most revered for his forecasting abilities. However, more than a dozen states have their own prognosticating groundhogs. These include Buckeye Chuck in Ohio, Birmingham Bill in Alabama and General Beauregard Lee in Georgia.
Phil has been predicting the weather at Gobbler’s Knob for more than 130 years. This is quite a feat considering groundhogs typically live between six and eight years. Folklore indicates Phil sips a magical drink that will prolong his life for seven more years.
Phil’s full name is Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather-Prophet Extraordinary.
Groundhogs also are called woodchucks and are a species of rodent known as marmots. They typically weigh between 12 and 15 pounds. Woodchucks really have nothing to do with wood or chucking. The name stems from an Algonquian name wuchak.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration says Phil has seen his shadow more times than not between 1887 and 2019. Statistically speaking, six more weeks of winter is often the norm.
Groundhogs prefer to live in open country or at woodland edges. They are never far from a burrow made in well-drained soil. Most have summer and winter dens.
Groundhogs are adept at predicting the arrival of spring, just not in the way people have come to know from Groundhog Day. Since they hibernate, when groundhogs emerge from their burrows, it’s a sure sign spring is on its way.
The 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day’ starring Bill Murray helped solidify Punxsutawney Phil as a national hero and household name. Since then, crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have made the pilgrimage to see Phil in person.