The first Groundhog Day was in 1887 on February 2nd. That was exactly 130 years ago, today. It’s surprising, to say the least, that a holiday centered around a groundhog has lasted for so long. The roots of the holiday are deeply connected to the early history of Pennsylvania.
The general origins of the holiday are often debated. Some believe that it was based off an ancient European weather lore, in which a bear or badger had the ability to predict the weather. However, most people believe that the holiday stems from the Christian tradition of Candlemas. Candlemas was when the clergy would bless and distribute candles that were needed during the winter. The brightness of the candles would determine the length and severity of the rest of winter. The Germans expanded upon these traditions, and they chose a hedgehog to predict the weather. A large amount of Germans immigrated into America around the 18th and 19th centuries, and they brought their traditions with them. Pennsylvania had a large German settlement called Germantown. This large population of Germans is what caused the subculture of “Pennsylvania-Dutch” to occur (as Dutch was a mispronunciation of the German word Deutsch). Since groundhogs were more commonly found in Pennsylvania than hedgehogs, the Germans modified their age-old tradition.
Punxsutawney Phil became the official weather predictor in 1887, which is when the official holiday began. A newspaper editor belonging to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared Phil to be true weather predicting groundhog of America. Since then, the tradition has continued with Punxsutawney Phil coming out of hibernation early each year to see (or not) see his shadow. Although groundhogs only live for less than 10 years, it is said that Phil drinks a special elixir each year to keep him from aging. Or, if you hate fables such as these, you know that they just replace Phil with a new groundhog when he dies.
Since then, other states have taken it upon themselves to create their own, similar traditions. For example, Birmingham Bill and Staten Island Chuck are fellow weather predicting groundhogs. In addition to this, Texas celebrates Armadillo Day, which is basically the same thing as Groundhog Day, but with their state animal, an armadillo. Overall, experts say that Punxsutawney Phil is only accurate about 30% of the time. Despite the below average results, Groundhog Day is a great way for a community to come together to celebrate their history. Many reports have shown that this morning Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, thus predicting 6 more weeks of winter.
Article by Mia Zappacosta