Every year on Feb. 2, halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox, it’s not only National Tater Tot Day, it is also the beloved holiday known as Groundhog Day. The traditions surrounding this day have connections in both ancient and modern times. In ancient times, Groundhog Day appeared in three different cultures. The first tradition is with the Celts who named the holiday “Imbolc,” which was a pagan holiday that marked the beginning of spring. Christianity began to spread through Europe, and “Imbolc” turned into “Candlemas.” This tradition had Jesus presented at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and if there was sun, it meant that there would be another 40 days of winter. Then the Germans added their own twist onto the holiday. Their tradition was that if badgers or other small animals saw their shadows, there would be sun. The Germans brought this tradition over with them in the 18th and 19th centuries when settling in Philadelphia and chose a groundhog as the animal to see its shadow. These ancient traditions would eventually influence what we know today as Groundhog Day, especially during February of 1887.
On Feb. 2, 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pa., the first-ever Groundhog Day took place. The town’s local newspaper editor, Clyde Freas, sold the idea to the businessmen and groundhog hunters in the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. The next year the men made their way to a place known as Gobblers Knob, where they saw a groundhog see his shadow and said six more weeks of winter were ahead. The holiday today is celebrated in Punxsutawney as a three day event run by the town’s local dignitaries, known as the Inner Circle. The men wear top hats, and the whole ceremony is said in Pennsylvania Dutch, so words like groundhog are pronounced as “groundhogese.” Additionally, the town of Punxsutawney is home to about 6,000 residents, but during this time of year upwards of at least 10,000 people all come to the town just to see a groundhog named Phil.
With every great holiday comes fun, interesting facts, and Groundhog day is no exception. The first fact might not be a surprise, but having a groundhog predict the weather actually isn’t very accurate. According to the National Climatic Weather Data Center, there is no relationship between Punxsutawney Phil’s weather predicting abilities and the actual weather forecast. In fact, one has a better chance of flipping a coin than Phil getting the prediction right. Also, when beginning this holiday the Germans originally chose a hedgehog but changed it to a groundhog once they noticed the large amount that lived in Pennsylvania. Thank goodness they changed the animal because, I don’t know about you, but “Hedgehog Day” doesn’t have the same ring to it. Another fun fact that you might not already know is that Punxsutawney Phil’s real name is actually Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary. That is a mouthful, so I think I’ll just stick with Phil!
The last fun fact has actually caused lots of controversy, especially between me and a friend. Groundhog Day has been celebrated for the past 134 years. During those years it has been questioned whether or not Punxsutawney Phil has ever been replaced. Now this is where people’s stories begin to differ. Many believe that Phil has been replaced because of two reasons. The first is that the normal lifespan for a groundhog is six to eight years, and the second is that 134 years is a long time for anything to live, let alone a groundhog. However, there are other people, like myself, who believe that there has only been one Punxsutawney Phil for the entire 134 years. The theory is that every year Phil drinks a magical drink that gives him seven more years of life. After debating this for 10 minutes, my friend and I have yet to come to a conclusion about whether or not Phil has ever been replaced. Do you think he’s been replaced, or has Phil really been around for 134 years?
Regardless of what you think about Phil, Groundhog Day is such a fun and unique holiday that is totally underrated. We get to ignore the gloomy winter weather for one day by letting our weather for the next six weeks be predicted by, yes, that’s right, a groundhog!