COARSEGOLD — Groundhog Day is an American tradition observed every year on February 2nd, which celebrates the weather prediction made by a groundhog.
The groundhog’s predictions are not usually taken seriously, but this remains a way to honor cultural traditions. Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow 9 out of 10 times.
While this tradition may seem odd to some, it has some meaning and logic. As a hibernating animal, a groundhog coming out of its den is usually a sign that spring is coming. In early times, Europeans used to look for signs of animals who would hibernate during the cold days to signal that winter was over.
The premise is that a groundhog comes out of its den every year sometime in the morning of this day, and if it sees its shadow on the ground and returns to the hole, there will be six more weeks of winter from that date. However, if the groundhog does not see its shadow and stays out of its hole, it means spring is near and will arrive early.
Early February also sits midway between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Equinox. This was the period during which early Europeans and Romans had their own rituals, such as Candlemas Day, to establish whether spring was coming to see if their crops could be planted. These celebrations evolved, and Groundhog Day derives from them.
This tradition arrived in America by way of the German settlers in Pennsylvania in the 19th century. Back home, they used to look for hedgehogs to predict the weather in the coming months. However, the Pennsylvania region was populated with groundhogs, so they became the official weather forecaster.
The first known record of people searching for groundhogs to determine the weather happened in the 1880s when a group of friends went into Punxsutawney’s woods looking for groundhogs coming out of their dens. This soon became a popular tradition with people in the town, and in 1887 Groundhog Day was officialized. The ceremony remains a popular one until this day. All of the groundhog’s predictions are registered in the Congressional Records of our National Archive.
After making this an official tradition in the area, people named the forecasting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, and he is now a local celebrity who earned even more notoriety around the country after the release of the popular 1993 movie featuring a star-studded cast with the well-known actor Bill Murray playing the lead role. While Phil is the most well-known groundhog, other states have their mascots, such as Pothole Pete, Buckeye Chuck, Dunkirk Dave, Buckeye Chuck, General Beauregard Lee, Staten Island Chuck, Chuckles IX, Thistle the Whistle-pig, Chattanooga Chuck, Sir Walter Wally, Pierre C. Shadeaux, and Grover.
Current celebrations of this tradition usually take shape in the way of festivals that draw crowds of around 40,000 people yearly. The events are also broadcasted on TV, so people can still watch the ceremonies from home. The most famous celebration is held in Gobbler’s Knob and is hosted by local government officials, who wear top hats and speak in a language they call Groundhogese.