The Groundhog Behind It All

The history and traditions of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA in 2013.

Creative Commons

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA in 2013.

Shelby Hansen

Groundhog Day is a holiday that not many pay attention to, but it has origins that date back to Christian festivals. Every year on Feb. 2, people gather in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to witness the groundhog, known as Phil, come out of hibernation. If he sees his shadow, he becomes afraid and runs back into his burrow, predicting six more weeks of winter. If he does not, there will be an early spring.  

Groundhog Day originates from the Christian festival Candlemas. The clergy would bless and distribute candles for winter, and the candles would predict how long the winter would last. The Germans expanded on this idea and replaced candles for rodents, specifically hedgehogs. When many Germans immigrated to America, they continued this tradition and switched the hedgehogs to groundhogs, as there are many of them in Pennsylvania.  

Groundhogs go into hibernation in the late fall and do not come out for good until March. In early February, male groundhogs emerge from their burrows to look for a mate, and then they go back into their hole. During this period, the groundhogs’ bodies drop in temperature and their heartbeats slow, allowing them to conserve energy throughout the winter months.  

The first Groundhog Day was celebrated in Feb. 2, 1887. This year, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. The ceremony took place in Punxsutawney, but spectators were not allowed to watch due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Phil’s “inner circle” woke him up at 7:25 a.m., and once he saw his shadow, Phil ran back into his burrow. Although this predicts six more weeks of winter, a member of Phil’s inner circle said that he believes that the spring following will be one of the most beautiful springs the world has ever seen.