Groundhog Day is a traditional North American festival that has its roots embedded in folklore and legend. According to legend, on 2 February, the groundhog's behavior is a way of forecasting the weather. If the groundhog pops its head out of its burrow, sees its shadow and then goes back in again, it will mean that wintry weather will continue for six more weeks. If the groundhog does not see its shadow, then it will not be scared to come out of its burrow, which signifies that the wintry weather will soon end. The town of Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania, holds a Groundhog Day celebration that features a groundhog named Punxsatawney Phil and has gained widespread recognition.
It is believed that because the groundhog lives underground, it is not used to seeing its shadow. The groundhog will therefore be scared if it does see its own shadow and go back down below. Whether this method is an accurate system for predicting the weather is debatable at best, but the tradition of Groundhog Day dates to the mid-1800s.
Origins of the Tradition
Groundhog Day is believed to have been derived from Candlemas, a day that has been recognized in some European countries on 2 February and is said to be when wolves or bears emerge from hibernation. Some Candlemas legends also refer to a serpent that emerges. Records show that a Pennsylvanian storekeeper wrote down the groundhog tradition as told to him by German colleagues in 1841. The original tradition was thought to have arrived in the U.S. with settlers from Germany and France. The date used for Groundhog Day is one of the year's cross-quarter dates — dates between a solstice and an equinox.
More recently, Groundhog Day has become widely associated with the 1993 comedy movie of the same name, starring Bill Murray as a weather reporter who has to relive the same Groundhog Day over and over. Although not actually filmed there, the film is set in Punxsutawney, which has other historical ties to groundhogs. The Delaware Indians settled in Puxsutawney and believed that groundhogs were their ancestors. The term "woodchuck" originated from the Indian legend of Wojak the groundhog.
The film Groundhog Day has helped generate big business for the town of Punxsutawney. Thousands of tourists flock to the celebration each 2 February, when Punxsutawney Phil takes the trip to Gobbler's Knob, just east of Punxsatawney. There, re-created burrow on a false tree stump is used for the little fellow to make his weather prediction, which is then announced by the president of the town's Groundhog Club.