History of Groundhog Day

By Holly D’Anna

Legend has it that if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on February 2, there will be six more weeks of winter. Curious about the history behind this long-standing tradition? Read on for the interesting origins and fun facts about Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day Basics

Punxsutawney Phil

No surprise — Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most beloved and furry seasonal prognosticator, saw his shadow on Monday morning (despite overcast skies), portending six more weeks of winter.

According to legend, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on February 2, he will leave the burrow — signaling that cold winter weather will soon end, bringing an early spring. If it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, he will return to his burrow and winter will last for approximately six more weeks. See more about the origin of the Groundhog Day legend and some fun facts about Punxsutawney Phil, below.

Groundhog Day Origins

The holiday is rooted in German superstition surrounding the tradition of Candlemas Day, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. When German settlers arrived in Pennsylvania in the 18th century, they brought the tradition of Candlemas with them. The tradition is celebrated on February 2, and according to an old English song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
Fun Facts About Groundhog Day
  • The first official Groundhog Day was celebrated in 1887 at Gobbler’s Knob, 2 miles outside of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
  • The name Punxsutawney comes from the Delaware Indians who settled the area in 1723 and their word “ponksad-uteney,” which means “town of the sand flies”
  • Crowds as large as 40,000 people have traveled to Gobbler’s Knob to watch Phil make his prediction.
  • When he’s not predicting the weather on Groundhog Day, Phil lives in the town library in Punxsutawney with his “wife,” Phyllis.
  • Punxsutawney Phil has only predicted an early spring 16 times.
  • According to the National Climatic Data Center, Phil’s weather predictions have been correct 39 percent of the time.
  • The average life span of groundhogs is only 10 years — but fans say that there has been only one Punxsutawney Phil, who is kept alive with a special “groundhog elixir” given to him every summer that lengthens his life for seven more years.
  • Other weather prognosticating groundhogs include Staten Island Chuck (Staten Island, New York City), Sir Walter Wally (Raleigh, North Carolina), General Beauregard Lee (Lilburn, Georgia), and Jimmy the Groundhog (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin).
  • Texas started its own tradition in 2010 and uses its state mammal, an armadillo, to predict the weather for Armadillo Day. The armadillo, named Bee Cave Bob, makes his own weather prediction at the West Pole in Bee Cave, Texas.

FAQ’s about Groundhog Day

Punxsutawney Groundhog Club offers Answers

Bill Murray and Punxsutawney Phil the Groundhog

According to IBDb.com, Bill Murray was bitten by the groundhog twice on the Groundhog Day set in 1992.

1. Yes, Punxsutawney Phil is the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just imposters.

2. There has been only one Punxsutawney Phil. Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking “groundhog punch” (a secret recipe). One sip, which is administered every summer at the Groundhog Picnic, gives him seven more years of life.

3. On February 2nd, Phil comes out of his burrow on Gobbler’s Knob, in front of thousands of faithful followers from all over the world, to predict the weather for the rest of the winter.

4. According to legend, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.

5. No, Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasts are not made in advance by the Inner Circle. After Phil emerges from his burrow on February 2nd, he speaks to the Groundhog Club President in Groundhogese. His proclamation is then translated for the world.

6. The celebration of Groundhog Day began with the Germans, Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers. They brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day, which states “For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May…”. The settlers found that groundhogs were plentiful and were the most intelligent and sensible animal to carry on the legend of Candlemas Day.

7. Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day in the 1800’s. The first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob made on February 2nd, 1887. In 2008 it will be the 122nd prediction.

8. So the story goes, Punxsutawney Phil was named after King Phillip. Prior to being called Phil, he was called Br’er Groundhog.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Color the most famous furry weather forecaster.

Punxsutawney Phil, America's favorite furry weather forecaster

Did you know????

Groundhog Day occurs every February 2nd.
According to legend: “It is the day that the Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow.”

  • If the day is sunny: and he sees his shadow, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather (Long Winter) and returns to his hole.
  • If the day is cloudy; and he therefore cannot see his own shadow, he takes it as an omen of Spring arriving soon (Short Winter) and stays above ground.

Celebrate Groundhog Day

What is Groundhog Day?   Groundhog Day is celebrated in the United States and Canada on February 2nd.

chocolate treat shaped as  a groundhog

Shop Punxsutawney Phil’s website for groundhog gifts.

The day involves weather prognostication by a furry creature, namely the Groundhog.  The most famous and the biggest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000.  Since 1886, people have gathered here to celebrate the holiday, which is based on when winter is going to end.

The tradition holds that if the groundhog (Marmota monax) pops his head out but sees a shadow when emerging from its burrow, and pops back down, winter will go on for another six weeks. But, if it doesn’t see its shadow, and the groundhog comes out of its burrow, then it is thought that winter will be over soon.

What you should know is… that National Climatic Data Center has described the forecasts as “on average, inaccurate” and stated that “the groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years.”

Although Punxsutawney Phil’s weather predictions have been correct 39% of the time, accordingto the StormFax Weather Almanac and records kept since 1887, he is still considered the Number 1 prognosticator in the United States. 

Looking for gifts and/or party favors to celebrate Groundhog Day?  Click on Punxsutawney Phil’s website to find chocolate treats and more….

Also check out the Recipes page.

groundhog poop _ chocolate candy

A fun gift for Feb. 2nd, give “groundhog poop,” which is really chocolate candy.