Groundhog Day’s History
Groundhog Day (Pennsylvania German: Grund’sau dåk, Grundsaudaag, Grundsow Dawg, Murmeltiertag; Nova Scotia: Daks Day) is a popular tradition celebrated in Canada and the United States on February 2. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog (Marmota monax, also called “woodchuck”; Deitsch: Grundsau, Grunddax, Dax) emerging from its burrow on this day sees a shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks, and 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 or not 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 Holy Day of Candlemas forebodes a prolonged winter.
The Groundhog Day ceremony held at Punxsutawney in western Pennsylvania, centering around a semi-mythical groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, has become the most attended. Grundsow Lodges in Pennsylvania Dutch Country in the southeast part of the state celebrate them as well. Other cities in the United States and Canada have also adopted the event.
The 1993 film Groundhog Day helped boost recognition of the custom, and the celebration has spread even further afield. In 2009, Quebec began to mark the day (Canadian French: Jour de la Marmotte) with its own groundhog.
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 a 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 here, 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 a book for popular reading by an academic, 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 year after the movie screened in 1993, 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 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 a.m., 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