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The History of Groundhog Day

By Elaine Elliott

How did ancient superstitions revolving around a hibernating animal turn into a worldwide broadcasted event organized by a group of top hat wearing men?

The story of Groundhog Day is nothing short of perplexing.
While most scoff off Groundhog Day as a silly affair, others are undeniable believers called “phaithphil phollowers” of Groundhog Phil’s forecasts. Continue reading to learn more about the curious history of Groundhog Day.


Groundhog Day is a North America holiday that started with European roots. In German and Dutch lore, badgers are considered weather predictors. In North America, the groundhog became the animal of choice for Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants who carried on this tradition to their new American home.

The holiday Candlemas was traditionally celebrated on February 2nd in these Christian cultures. If there was clear weather on the holiday (meaning you can see shadows outside), then winter was supposedly prolonged. 


In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania the ceremony has continued for over 130 years as the most attended ceremony in the country. Every year, viewers anxiously wait for the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil to emerge from his den and forecast the approaching season. Over 40,000 people have attended in years past, which is especially impressive considering the town of Punxsutawney only has about 5,700 citizens.


The first citing of Groundhog Day was from a diary entry in 1840. By 1887, the first official Groundhog Day was declared at the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge. In modern times the event has taken place at Gobbler’s Knob – a park right outside of Punxsutawney.


Nowadays the ceremony has brought about a whole slew of events during the week building up to Phil’s reveal. There is a formal ball, talent show, banquet, and the early morning ceremony on February 2nd.


During the ceremony, the “Inner Circle” communicates with Phil and writes down his prediction on a scroll before reading it out to the crowd. The Inner Circle is a distinct group of men wearing top hats and tuxedos. The president directly speaks to Phil through the language “Groundhogese” about whether or not Phil saw his shadow when he awoke from his stump house. Phil is placed on top of the stump house on a velvet blanket for a final deliberation with the Inner Circle president before broadcasting the weather prediction to the world.


For over 100 years, Phil has seen his shadow which meant a prolonged winter. For 20 years (including 2019 and 2020), Phil did not see his shadow and announced an early spring.


Almanacs, meteorologists, and national weather recording agencies have all challenged Phil’s humble predictions by stating the groundhog is accurate only around 36-47% of the time. Although the statistics aren’t in his favor, how could you possibly say no to Phil’s adorable furry face?


Whether you choose to believe the tales of Punxsy Phil and the Inner Circle or not, you can’t deny the impressive power this little groundhog has in bringing people together for a timeless and light-hearted event.

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