Groundhog Day: A Slightly Sarcastic Origin Story -- but It's True

By Victoria Robertson on February 2, 2017

“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ‘cause it’s coooold out there today!”

Never has a statement about a national holiday been so true. Okay, it probably has. But who cares.

Anyway, that’s right — it’s Groundhog Day! Finally, right? I know, we’ve all been waiting for this day to come. Will there be more winter? Will there be spring?

Not to worry! The town rodent will enlighten us all.

All jokes aside, today is actually Groundhog Day, and if it weren’t for social media and a few nuts wearing groundhog hats in your town, you would’ve completely forgotten.

While that’s probably because the day kind of disappeared from our radar once we passed the second grade, it’s still a tradition nonetheless, and one that I learned recently that people don’t understand. I mean, granted, it’s hard to grasp the fact that people wait for a furry rat to tell us what our future holds, but it’s tradition, so we should all know what’s happening.

So, for your educational perusal, here is the history of the national holiday, Groundhog Day. Thank me later.

And before we begin, no it’s not a day dedicated to celebrating Bill Murray. Although, I think we can all agree that’s necessary (not sure who’s in charge of planning national holidays, but you’re dropping the ball on this one).

Groundhog Day originated from an ancient Christian celebration (of course): Candlemas Day. Candlemas Day is the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

And of course, the entire celebration centered around superstition: if the weather was sunny/clear, there would be a long, rough winter and if the weather was cloudy, the warm weather was just around the corner.

The Germans were the ones to introduce an animal to the superstition, bringing out a hedgehog. If the hedgehog saw its shadow, six weeks of rough winter would follow.

So how exactly did this tradition make its way over to the U.S.?

Because Pennsylvania settlers were largely German, the tradition came with them. However, the hedgehog instead became a groundhog, as this was the creature native to the area.

1886 marked the first Groundhog Day printed news, and every year following, a celebration of the day occurred. So, to this day, February 2 is known as Groundhog Day.

The celebration takes place in Gobbler’s Knob with the guest of honor, Punxsutawney Phil, who predicts the upcoming weather.

The tradition hasn’t changed all that much either. While many U.S. cities hold similar celebrations, the most elaborate celebration by far still occurs in Gobbler’s Knob, PA.

2017 marked the 131st weather forecast from the Groundhog.

So what happened this year?

Phil, a bit more rambunctious than usual according to the crowd (the crazy people wearing groundhog hats and waiting in 30-degree weather for a rodent to predict the weather) was awoken from his “tree-trunk lair” by the chanting of his name.

His handlers placed him on a stump and the “seer of seers” saw his own shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of winter.

However, celebrations around the country brought different predictions by different groundhogs. And yes, they have names that are equally ridiculous.

Staten Island Chuck (the groundhog with an 80 percent accuracy rating — yes, somebody actually pays attention to the accuracy of the rodents predictions) predicted an early spring after he did not see his shadow.

A similar scenario played out in Nova Scotia where Shubenacadie Sam didn’t see his shadow. And, for the record, Sam has the best media presence of all the groundhogs that were forced into this year’s celebration.

However, for the 131st time that Phil predicted our weather, we have to give him some credit, right?

According to NPR intern Cecilia Mazanec, it’s important to note how far this tradition has come. In the beginning, Punxsutawney Phil predicted the weather and quickly became an item on the dinner menu.

Yes, you read that right. Apparently, this story didn’t end so well for Phil in the past, as the town would wait for his weather prediction and then feast on him.


However, according to the intern, “as Phil rose in popularity, he moved off the menu.”

Well, thank goodness for that. PETA would be all over February 2 if that weren’t the case.

But the fun behind Groundhog Day isn’t in the belief that a groundhog can actually predict our weather (at least, it isn’t for sane people), but that we’re all holding onto the hope that this miserable winter ends soon.

Of course, today’s prediction shot that idea in the foot, unless you’re listening to Chuck or Sam (I suppose this is a glass half empty/full scenario).

But regardless of your beliefs (or religion), Phil has spoken, and today is very cold for most of the country.

Here’s hoping Phil’s off his meds and tomorrow will be spring, right?!

Victoria is a dedicated writer who graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She currently writes freelance pieces for various sites and works in Marketing for Myndbee Inc., promoting their current mobile app, Picpal.

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