Punxsutawney serves as the home of the groundhog, Phil, whose annual weather prediction on Feb. 2 draws in thousands of visitors from around the world to Gobbler’s Knob. Feb. 2 is widely known within the United States as Groundhog Day, it even inspired a 1993 Bill Murray film with the same name. Little is known by the general public about the origins of the traditions associated with Punxsutawney Phil’s yearly ceremony.
Nevertheless, the history behind Groundhog Day can be traced back to the migration of German immigrants into Pennsylvania.??The traditions associated with Groundhog Day are linked with the celebration of Candlemas Day brought over by German immigrants to Pennsylvania. According to www.groundhog.org, the official Web site of Punxsutawney Phil and the Feb. 2 celebration, “For centuries the custom was to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people. Even then, it marked a milestone in the winter and the weather that day was important.”
Since early Christianity also extended to Germany, the Germans incorporated their own traditions into Candlemas Day celebrations. One of these traditions included that if the sun was shining on the Candlemas Day, a special animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow. This predicted that more weeks of bad weather, or “Second Winter,” would follow.
According to www.groundhog.org, the Germans recited a poem about this tradition: “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day/So far will the snow swirl until the May.” ??
According to www.stormfax.com, the earliest settlers in Pennsylvania, specifically in Punxsutawney, were German, and they sought to continue their Candlemas Day traditions. Since hedgehogs were not to be found in Pa., the groundhog, an indigenous species to the area, was chosen as a replacement. The Stormfax Weather Almanac Web site on Groundhog Day history also stated that initially, this tradition was celebrated by German immigrants throughout Pa., the earliest recorded celebration actually occurred on Feb. 4, 1841 in Morgantown, Berks County, Pa.
However, the first recognized Groundhog Day celebration was recorded by The Punxsutawney Spirit on Feb. 2, 1886. The following year, Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day celebration was moved out to its current location, Gobbler’s Knob.
Since that day, thousands of people from around the world flock to Gobbler’s Knob, a small clearing outside of Punxsutawney where the head member of the Inner Circle, who serves as Punxsutawney Phil’s official handlers, pulls Phil out of his stump and reveals the forecast for spring. If Phil sees shadow, six more weeks of winter will follow. However, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, early spring will arrive. ??
There are more interesting facts behind Groundhog Day gathered from www.groundhog.org, www.stormtrax.com, and www.Punxsutawney.com, which is the Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce’s official Web site for the town:?
The film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, was not actually filmed in Punxsutawney, PA, but in Woodstock, IL. ?
Groundhogs only have a maximum lifespan of 10 years. Thus, every year a different “Punxsutawney Phil” is used in the official Groundhog Day ceremony. Punxsutawney Phil and other groundhogs used in the ceremonies live in a “Groundhog Zoo” located in the Punxsutawney Memorial Library.?
The “stump” which Phil is pulled out of by the Inner Circle is heated for up to twenty-four hours before the Groundhog Day ceremony. ?
Groundhogs have very strong jaws and extremely sharp teeth. Members of the Inner Circle who handle Punxsutawney Phil have to wear chainmail gloves to protect their hands from the groundhog’s bite. ?
Students attending the Punxsutawney Area School District have Feb. 2 as a vacation day and root for their school mascot, the Punxsutawney “Chucks” (short for “woodchucks,” another name for groundhogs).
Jen James is a junior English major with a minor in music. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.