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The History of Groundhog Day

by Erich Martin

Feb 2, 2020

Karen Foley | Dreamstime.com

Age Specific / Baby

In the late 1800s, one town in Pennsylvania took weather reporting to another level by appointing a groundhog as the No. 1 meteorologist.

 

The crux of the argument is simple. If the sun is out and the groundhog sees his shadow and retreats to his burrow in fear, there will be six more weeks of winter. If the day is cloudy and the groundhog has no shadow, we are due for an early spring.

 

According to the Stormfax Weather Almanac, Groundhog Day has a storied history dating back to 1887. The tradition itself dates back even further, when Germans used a badger in the same way to determine the weather forecast.

 

Native Americans settled Punxsutawney in 1723, about 90 miles to the northeast of Pittsburgh, serving as a midway point between the Alleghany and Susquehanna rivers. The tradition came with German settlers, who celebrated Candlemas Day and the surviving tradition and belief of a nice day meaning more winter, and held throughout history.

 

According to the almanac, the earliest reference to Groundhog Day happened in 1841, where a local person recounted the tradition with groundhogs as the main predictor. The first trip to Gobbler’s Knob, where the event is celebrated, wouldn’t happen for nearly 30 years.

 

In 1886, the first official Groundhog Day was celebrated. With it, the groundhog received its official name and title, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinaire.” On that first day, Phil failed to see his shadow, and an early spring was foreseen.

 

In the 132 years since the tradition was codified, Phil has seen his shadow 104 times. There have only been 19 occasions where the woodchuck failed to see his shadow, predicting an early spring.

 

The legend of the day grew in the mid 1990s, when Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day launched the day into the spotlight. Since the movie released, the ceremony at Gobbler’s Knob has grown beyond the amount of residents actually living in Punxsutawney.

 

In its current form, Groundhog Day is a well-loved tradition. The venerable groundhog handlers place Phil into a heated, synthetic tree stump up on Gobbler’s Knob hours before the ceremony. At 7:25 a.m., they pull the little guy from the stump, and he makes his prediction.

 

According to the almanac, when Phil isn’t predicting the weather, he is living in his burrow with his wife, Phyllis, eating dog food and ice cream.

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