The Truth about Groundhog Day: An American Faith Built around Rodents

A groundhog sits on green grass. This animal has importance to those who love Groundhog Day.

Skeeze from Pixabay

A groundhog sits on green grass. This animal has importance to those who love Groundhog Day.

Dean Rorabaugh, Staff Writer

    According to the History Channel, Groundhogs Day has a long history. Looking at the modern day celebration, the Groundhogs Day we know is loosely based off of a long list of evolving holidays celebrated during history. At the very start of that list is Imbolc, a Celtic holiday marking the beginning of spring. 

     During the rise of Christianity, the Christians took Imbolc and made it into Candlemas, a feast celebrating Virgin Mary being purified after Jesus’s birth. The clerics would bless candles and give them to those who came to the feast, hoping it would help them stay warm during the last section of winter. A tradition was born, with the belief being that if Candlemas day was bright and sunny, winter would continue, and if it was harsh and cold, spring would soon come. 


There even was a folk song made for this specific event, told as so:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,

Come, Winter, have another flight;

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,

Go Winter, and come not again.


     After a long time of this tradition spreading throughout Europe, the Germans took a less religious spin on the holiday and said if badgers and other small animals did not see their shadow, the nice spring weather would soon come. When the Germans migrated to Pennsylvania, they brought their holiday with them, changing the badger to the more native groundhog.

     So, the majority of Americans would assume that the American tradition of Groundhogs Day would be just that; watching and seeing if a groundhog sees his shadow. However, that is not the case. In fact, the public’s idea of what Groundhogs Day really entails is not true, at least not in the most part.

     When asked about the tradition and what is practiced, Johnny Ausmus, an 8th grader, thought that it was only about the groundhog seeing its shadow, and said that “It’s not too important. I mean, it’s another day.”

    First, a bit of backstory. In America, there are many groundhogs used to predict weather, and even some in Canada. Texas, New York, and Ontario all have popular celebrations held. But one stands above all of the others in popularity, by far. In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the largest and most celebrated Groundhogs Day celebration in the world takes place, where it was first brought over by the Germans.

     The groundhog in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania was given the name Punxsutawney Phil, named after the town. They even made a movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, which made this specific celebration gain even more popularity. Compared to all other places which celebrate groundhogs day, Pennsylvania does it a little differently. 

     The Groundhogs Club, known as the Inner Circle, takes it to an extreme. On their website, The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, they say that Punxsutawney Phil is the only weather predicting animal to exist, and all others are “Just impostors”. They also say that since 1886, there has only been one Puncsutawney Phil, making him 134 years old. He gets this immense lifespan from ‘elixir of life’, also known as ‘groundhog punch’, which has a secret recipe. They give Phil this ‘punch’ every fall, during the annual Groundhog Picnic. Each sip he takes adds 7 years to his lifespan. To compare, a normal groundhog, in captivity, has a lifespan of 6 years. 

     Jordan Slavish, a math and engineering teacher, said that to him Groundhogs Day is about a “fat dirt mouse [using] voodoo magic to dupe superstitious people into worrying about pointless planetary physics.” He did not believe it was factual, and didn’t care much for the holiday itself.

     Over the last 10 years, the NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) calculated that Punxsutawney Phil was at least 40% correct in his weather predictions. 

     During the celebration, the Vice President of the Inner Circle puts down two scrolls on the special stump. One says that spring will be early, and one says that winter will run longer. Phil will then come out of his hole, and make a weather prediction based on his innate knowledge. 

     Punxsutwney Phil then speaks to the President of the Inner Circle in ‘Groundhogese’, a language only Phil can speak. Phil directs the President to the correct scroll, correlating to what Phil predicts. Only the current President of the club can understand the language. The president then grabs the scroll Phil told him to pick up, opens it, and reads its prediction to the world.