Many days out of the year the weather is only watched to ensure we are dressed properly when we leave for work or a trip that morning. We often just want to know if it is cold or hot out, if it’s going to rain, or if we should pretend to be sick and take the sunny day off for the beach. But, when the calendar swings around to February 2nd, our attention to the weather is more about an adorable groundhog than anything else.
Groundhog’s Day comes every year on this date and instead of looking to the shy for our weather — we all turn our eyes and ears to an unlikely source — a groundhog.
Groundhog Day began as a Pennsylvanian German celebration in the1800s in Pennsylvania. Its origins date back to ancient European weather lore, when a sacred bear or badger was the weather predictor instead of the groundhog. Groundhog Day falls on February 2nd each year.
Today, Groundhog Day is celebrated with a groundhog prediction, festivities, food and speeches. According to Groundhog Day folklore, if the groundhog emerges from his burrow and sees his shadow (sunny morning), winter will last another six weeks. If the groundhog does not see his shadow (cloudy morning), then spring will arrive early.
The tradition dates back to 1887, and though the origins are unclear, it is said to have originated from ancient European weather lore in which a badger or sacred bear predicts the weather, rather than a groundhog. It also has religious origins, as it shares similarities with Candlemas Day, which is also on Feb. 2. According to an old English song, “If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight.”
States without groundhogs are taking matters into their own hands by choosing their own weather predictor. Texas, for example, chose its state mammal, an armadillo, to predict the weather for their first “Armadillo Day.” Only time will tell whether the groundhog or the armadillo is the true prognosticator.
So, what is it about the groundhog that makes them so special that they get all our attention? How did “Groundhog’s Day” come about? The history is quite interesting — so here are some quick, and interesting facts about Groundhog’s Day:
1. A movie was made in 1993 called ‘Groundhog Day’. It was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois but was portrayed as Punxsutawney. It was a comedy about a man reliving the same day over and over again until he became a better person.
2. In the years following the release of Groundhog Day, a 1993 film starring Bill Murray, crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney where the ceremony takes place.
3. Punxsutawney Phil has a pretty terrible success rate. According to National Climatic Data Center, Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous of all the Groundhog Day groundhogs, isn’t very good at his job, having picked correctly only 39 percent of the time. As might be expected, the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club dispute this number and claim that Phil has been right 100 percent of the time.
4. There are other Groundhog Day celebrations held in Pennsylvania including those in Quarryville, Schuylkill County, Sinnamahoning County and Bucks County.
5. Since a groundhog hibernates for the winter, its coming out of the ground is a natural sign of spring. In Europe centuries ago, people watched for other hibernating animals, including badgers, bears and hedgehogs, as signs of winter’s end.
6. The largest and most famous celebration for Groundhog Day in the United States is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and the groundhog’s name is Punxsutawney Phil.
7. The largest and most famous celebration for Groundhog Day in Canada is held in Wiarton, Ontario and the groundhog’s name is Wiarton Willie.
8. Approximately 40,000 people attend the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania each February 2nd.
9. The University of Dallas in Irving, Texas holds a Groundhog Day celebration each year which is believed to be the second largest celebration in the world after Punxsutawney.
10. Groundhogs are great swimmers and tree climbers. You wouldn’t necessarily peg groundhogs as good swimmers or tree climbers just by looking at them, but they’re actually pretty capable at doing both. Their preferred habitat is on the edge of woods and they’re known to climb up trees as a way to observe their surroundings and as a way of escaping from trouble, though if given the option they prefer to scurry into their burrows. They’ll also enter and swim in ponds and slow-moving streams if no other option for transit exists.
11. Groundhogs can be real jerks. By nature, groundhogs are aggressive creatures. They can be socialized if raised with lots of human contact in captivity, but still retain their full wild memories. Doug Schwartz, a zookeeper and groundhog trainer at the Staten Island Zoo, had this to say to the New York Times about groundhogs “They’re known for their aggression, so you’re starting from a hard place. Their natural impulse is to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly.”