Q: How did Groundhog Day start, and why do they think that a groundhog can predict the weather?
A: German tradition holds that if the sun comes out on Candlemas, the precursor to Groundhog Day, the hedgehog (or badger) will see its shadow and six more weeks of winter will follow. When German settlers came to Pennsylvania they continued this tradition, using groundhogs instead of hedgehogs to predict the weather.
The first official Groundhog Day was celebrated on February 2, 1886 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The legendary first Groundhog Day trip to Gobbler’s Knob was made the following year by a group of groundhog hunters who dubbed themselves “The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.” A local newspaper stated that Phil, the Punxsutawney Groundhog, was the one and only official weather prognosticating groundhog. The groundhog’s full name is actually “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.” It was so proclaimed by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club in 1887, the same year they declared Punxsutawney to be the weather capital of the world.
Phil’s fame began to spread and newspapers from around the world began to report his predictions. Growing legions of fans started making the trek to Punxsutawney every February 2. With the release of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, the crowds began to number in the tens of thousands, even though the movie was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois. Phil’s yearly Groundhog Day predictions are actually even entered into the Congressional Record!
For most of the year, Phil lives in a climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library. He is taken to Gobbler’s Knob and placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on stage before being pulled out at 7:25 am on Groundhog Day to make his prediction.
Phil is reputed by townspeople to be more than 100 years old, surviving beyond a marmot’s normal life span thanks to the strong constitution of his wife, Phyllis, and a steady diet of Groundhog Punch (obviously a euphemism for groundhog Viagra – note the big smile on Phyllis’ furry face).
Most major television stations across the country, as well as the big screen in Times Square, broadcast the official Groundhog Day ceremony.
When asked about the other weather predicting groundhogs around the country, Alan Freed, Webmaster for Punxsutawneyphil.com and Groundhog.org, says “We’ll take ‘em seriously just as soon as a major motion picture is created in their honor!”