The Origins of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day in PA

Ground Zero For Groundhog’s Day

Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is ground zero for Groundhog’s Day in America, for this is where the legendary Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual appearance and weather prediction for the next six weeks. According to Wikipedia, this strange conglomeration of Roman letters is used to express  a Delaware Indian phrase, which can be translated to mean “town of the sandflies”.

Situated south of Interstae 80, not too far from the town of State College, this small coal-mining, settlement of 6,000 people attracts a large crowd of visitors every February 2. The reason for this gathering is a groundhog named Punxsatawney Phil, who will faithfully reveal his prediction come rain or shine. This year 2013, Punxsatawney Phil did not see his shadow and so residents of western Pennsylvania are expecting an early end to winter.

Winter scene with horses
Winter scene with horses

Origin of Groundhog’s Day

Groundhog Day in America is an unusual event to say the least, especially if you consider the inverse relationship of the weather on Feb. 2  and the actual arrival of warmer spring weather. However, like most holidays, Groundhog Day is not pure fiction, but actually has its origins across the Atlantic in western Europe.

In many Christian countries, there is a mid-winter celebration called Candlemas, which just happens to occur at the mid point of winter, the second day of February.  In fact, in Germany, legend states that it is the lowly hedgehog, which emerges from hibernation at mid-winter and either sees his shadow or he does not. It should also be noted that for many residents of northern Europe, having survived the first half of winter is definitely a time for celebration. The Christian church has capitalized on this popular holiday by encouraging parishioners to  come to worship and light candles to mark the passing of the coldest season.

groundhog day
Movie Poster For Groundhog Day

The Holiday Immortalized

Though now 20 years old, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell has become a cult classic among movie buffs. When it was first released, this film received good reviews, but over the last twenty years the movie seems to have gained popularity, often cited as one of the most popular comedies of all time. Strangely enough the notoriety of Punxsutawney Phil has followed a similar path.