Groundhog Day was a thing long the movie sharing the name was released. Are the two of them related in any way? Strangely enough, they are. Find out how, as well as the rather surprisingly extensive history behind Groundhog Day in the continuation of this guide.
When Is Groundhog Day?
Canadians and Americans observe Groundhog Day every year, on February 2.
What Is Groundhog Day?
On Groundhog Day, people try to determine the arrival of spring by using a groundhog as an omen. They say that if a groundhog exits its burrow and sees its shadow, it will retreat and this will mean winter will last six more months. On the other hand, if the groundhog emerges and doesn’t see its shadow, that means spring is right around the corner.
Groundhog Day History
First documents that attested the celebration of Groundhog Day have information tracing back to the late 18th century – early 19th century. However, we can draw a correlation between the time’s custom and an even older tradition during ancient European lore.
The weather lore of European lore also consisted of making use of an animal, respectively a badger or a sacred bear, in order to read seasonal changes. Later on, this tradition became a German holiday known as Candlemas Day, a specific Christian custom. During Candlemas, clergy blessed people by distributing candles for wintertime.
Germany also introduced the animal-based predictions in the shape of hedgehogs. When Germans started migrating towards Pennsylvania, they also carried over the tradition. Because of the better availability, they started using groundhogs instead of hedgehogs. The biggest celebratory center for Groundhog Day is Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which is also the date for the first Groundhog Day observance.
The Groundhog In The Day
Why do groundhogs make such excellent weather predictors, anyway? Do they really emerge from their burrows to help us determine the arrival of spring? As disappointing as it may be, they unfortunately don’t.
The Marmota monax, as science calls the adorable groundhogs, are mammals that weigh around 15 pounds and live up to eight years. Their diet consists of vegetables and fruits, which they drain off energy in order to be able to climb trees or to swim. In late fall, they go into hibernation. Male groundhogs poke their noses out of their burrows sometime around February in order to scout for potential mates. They officially come out of hibernation, however, in March.
Some people theorize that the reason groundhogs in Pennsylvania come out in February is actually because of the increased temperatures comparatively to their natural habitats.
The most famous weatherman groundhog is called Phil, a name passed down from one groundhog generation to another. Phil became America’s supreme weather-predicting groundhog after the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared him so in a newspaper published in 1887.
Alternate Groundhog Day
People also refer to Groundhog Day the way the 1993 movie Groundhog Day popularized it. The movie starred Bill Murray and it involved a character trapped in an infinite loop of always repeating Groundhog Day. Today, many people use the term as a means to reference anything that’s repeating over and over again.
Groundhog Day Facts
- You probably know the saying “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood,” right? Groundhogs are also called woodchucks, though they’re not particularly fond of… wood. This begs the question of how they managed to earn an alias that’s so unrelated to their actual diet. There are plenty of theories to go around, but most of them theorize that the term is a result of various tongue-twisters and language barriers.
- We’d like to be a little bit picky and particular about this one. But one of the most memorable moments of Groundhog Day involves Murray’s character waking up at 6:00 AM each day of the repeated loop. Scientifically, however, this is impossible. Sunrise in Punxsutawney on February 2 doesn’t start until 7:30 AM.
- Groundhog Day is a very serious tradition and, as such, Punxsutawney Phil gets the treatment of a proper star. Those familiar with the celebration might have noticed the men with the top hats that conduct the ceremony of the groundhog. They’re called the Inner Circle and they’re an association with an established hierarchy and a set of titles and aliases. The fun part is that you have your average President or Secretary, but you also have more bizarre titles. Join the Inner Circle to become an Iceman, Thunder Conductor, or His Protector.
- But does this thing really work? Well, sometimes. Phil is more likely to be wrong when not noticing his shadow and this is because his reading is astronomically factual. February 2 lands right between the winter solstice and vernal equinox. As a result, there will always be roughly six more weeks of winter after Groundhog Day.
Groundhog Day is more of a fascinating tradition that celebrates the transition from winter to spring. Phil is a star and he’s hardly ever wrong, but this is mostly because he scientifically can’t be wrong. That doesn’t mean we don’t love him, though. It’s completely worth it to pay a visit to Punxsutawney to watch the ceremony observe and maybe snap a picture of America’s most endeared groundhog.