Today In History: First Ever Groundhog Day
Today marks the anniversary of the first ever publicly celebrated Groundhog Day, which took place at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1887. It has since become an enduring annual tradition.
We all know how it goes – a groundhog is coaxed from its burrow, and if it sees its own shadow, becomes spooked and runs back into the hole. This is meant to forecast a longer winter.
Groundhog Day is one of the more quixotic holidays we celebrate, and it actually has its origins in Candlemas, a Christian holiday in which religious officials would hand out candles for the dark winter months. Germans also believed that hedgehogs could predict weather, and brought that belief with them when they immigrated to America.
Germans in Pennsylvania made a switch from hedgehogs to the more abundant groundhog. Groundhogs are extremely common here.
When a groundhog emerges from its den during February, it’s not to forecast the weather. They are coming out of a hibernation period, and in very early Spring, males will emerge to seek a mate. However, they usually return to their dens to continue hibernating until March.
The Punxsutawney groundhog was originally named Phil, and it’s a name that’s stuck permanently. He was named by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Other groundhogs have emerged to challenge Phil’s dominance, but he has endured.
Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney were given permanent residence in Americans’ collective imaginations by the Bill Murray movie. Today, our association with the holiday is pretty much just an association with that film. Thankfully, it’s a good one.