How Did Groundhog Day Get Its Start?

Every year on February 2, the world looks to a furry marmot to predict the weather. He’s tasked with telling us if we are in for six more weeks of winter, based on whether or not he sees his shadow. Commonly known as Groundhog Day, it’s become an elaborate ritual that takes place in Pennsylvania.

Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog for the event, lives year round in a terrarium at the local library. While there are other famous groundhogs in locations ranging from Staten Island to Cleveland, it’s Phil who is the most well-known.

If you are wondering how this strange holiday—one that is rooted in believing a rodent can predict the weather—got its start, you aren’t alone. Let’s take a look back at when and how Groundhog Day came about.

The History of Groundhog Day

The first Groundhog Day took place in 1886, but it wasn’t held in Pennsylvania. It was the following year when Pennsylvania held the first of its now-annual Groundhog Day celebrations.

It’s believed that Groundhog Day can be traced back to the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas. Clergy would bless and distribute candles that represented how long and cold winter was projected to be. It was a practice the Germans modified by utilizing a hedgehog to predict winter weather. Once German settlers arrived in Pennsylvania, they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs.

Next, let’s answer a few of the most commonly asked questions about Punxsutawney Phil and Groundhog Day.

Frequently Asked Questions About Groundhog Day

Q: What does it mean if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow?

A: If Phil sees his shadow, it means we are in for six more weeks of winter weather. If not, it means spring is just around the corner!

Q: How many versions of Punxsutawney Phil have there been?

A: The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club claims there’s only been one because Phil drinks the “elixir of life,” a secret liquid that magically gives him seven more years of life with every sip. In reality, it’s believed there have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 different groundhogs.

Q: What is Phil’s track record of being right about the weather?

A: Despite all the hoopla, estimates say poor Punxsutawney Phil has only been correct about 40% of the time. There are a few years here and there where records are missing, but it’s generally believed that Phil is right less than half the time.

Q: Who takes care of Phil the other 364 days a year?

A: While Phil is a big celebrity one day a year, the rest of it he lives a pretty low-key life. His residence is a terrarium known as Phil’s Burrow in the Punxsutawney Memorial Library. His wife, Phyllis, lives there with him. Members of the inner circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club are responsible for his care and well-being.

Q: Is a groundhog the same as a woodchuck?

A: Yes, groundhogs and woodchucks are one and the same. They are also referred to as whistle pigs and land beavers.

Q: How big are groundhogs?

A: A diet consisting primarily of fruits and vegetables helps groundhogs maintain their weight at 12 to 15 pounds.

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