The History of Groundhog Day



With another year of Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow coming and going, it’s only fair to beg the question: Why? Why do we let a groundhog decide how much winter we get and when did this all begin? To answer this, we must go all the way back to Christian festival known as Candlemas.

Celebrated on February 2nd in Jerusalem as early as 250 AD, Candlemas is the day Christians have their candles blessed to signify the warmth and comfort needed during the winter season. If the Candlemas day was sunny, many Christians believed that the next 40 days would be riddled with cold and snow. This would be adapted centuries later by the Germans, who decided to expand on this practice by instead choosing an animal to predict the upcoming weather. If their badgers and other small animals saw their shadows, then 40 days of winter would ensue, and if not, Spring was headed their way. In the 18th and 19th centuries, German immigrants would carry this tradition with them to America’s Punxsutawney, Philadelphia, where they would select a new animal to carry the torch, with it being none other than the groundhog we know and love today.

To get there, though, one had to come up with such a brilliant idea as the groundhog, and the man who did was none other than Clymer Freas. Freas was a local newspaper editor who sold a group of businessmen, later dubbed the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, on the idea of having a groundhog search for his shadow at a place called Gobbler’s Knob. It was there where good ol’ Phil began his lifelong quest of searching for shadows. Since the 1880s, Punxsutawney Phil has kept a 39% accuracy rate across his 127 predictions, with 107 of those being for an extended winter and the remaining 20 for an imminent spring. The aforementioned club has since been renamed to the Inner Circle, where members conduct the ceremony in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect and supposedly talk to Phil through “Groundhogese”.

Through the centuries, the idea of candles predicting the weather has evolved into a groundhog searching for his shadow. While his predictions aren’t always correct, America always tunes in to see what winter the priceless Punxsutawney Phil predicts.