The History of Groundhog Day

TR Staff
Staff Writer

By Donovan Williams
Though a fun day for some, Groundhog Day is likely a day most people in North Dakota dread. It is another thing that will (supposedly) determine whether or not we get an early, much-desired spring or a just more winter. Though these may be superstitions, the history behind the day reveals a bit more how those before us relied on an animal to be the furry forecaster we know today.
The first official Groundhog Day was on February 2nd, 1886 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and by a different name. It was originally called Candlemas Day, brought to the US by German immigrants in the 1700s as a holiday associated with blessing the weather. On the second day of the second month, people brought their own candles (a symbol of necessity in winter) to church to have them blessed. They viewed this as a way to bring blessings to their households for the rest of the winter. There was a song for the Germans for this time of the year and it varies from culture to culture.

The English Version:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

The German Version:
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.

The Scottish Version:
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There will be two winters in the year.

The Americanized Version:
If the sun shines on Groundhog's day;
Half the fuel and half the hay.

With all the variations of rhymes and songs about the day, the Germans were the first to celebrate the event. They brought it from their home to ours, later something we turned into our own.
The celebration was that of light, both in a literal and religious sense, given that the days would grow to be longer and thought to be blessed. One neat representation of the candles was that the duration of time the wax burned represented how much longer each winter would last. It evolved into the belief that the sunny days signaled a longer winter while the cloudy days determined a shorter one. That is how the idea of seeing a shadow became associated with winter. There are no shadows to be seen on dark days. Sunny days mean more shadows, therefore more winter.
This was the norm for most people in Europe, though it differed for many countries. A groundhog was never mentioned in the song. The actual idea of the animal seeing its own shadow had come from German lore. If a hedgehog saw its shadows, there would be a second winter.
Eventually, the groundhog became the most popular animal to be a part of this commercialization since 1886. People seemed to grow fond of the gentle animal, leading to the origin of Punxsutawney Phil. Despite the lifespan of a groundhog being 6 years, many say that Phil has been around for 133 years for his participation in predicting the season. Of course, there have likely been several replacements over time, taking on the role of Punxsutawney Phil.
People can celebrate the holiday with Phil himself at Gobbler's Knob, the settlement in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the groundhog comes out to determine whether or not we get our early spring. It is known to many as the weather capital of the world as it is a place where everyone can come together and celebrate the weather forecast.