Cary, NC — What is Groundhog Day, exactly? And no, I’m not talking about the movie.
We all know the story of Groundhog Day, which falls annually on February 2. On this day, if a groundhog emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, winter weather will prevail for six more weeks. If it’s cloudy, spring will come early that year. Where did this tale come from, though, and who exactly is this famous groundhog? I decided to find out.
To many, Groundhog Day is simply a day to look up photos of cute groundhogs on Google or to watch the popular 1993 movie staring Bill Murray. Some even use the holiday as an excuse to throw groundhog-themed parties (yes, that’s a thing).
In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, though, parties on Groundhog Day are the real deal.
That’s because, according to Wikipedia, the first documented American reference to Groundhog Day was found in a diary entry dated February 4, 1841 from a Pennsylvania storekeeper named James Morris.
Later, Groundhog Day was adopted as a U.S. holiday when the editor of a Pennsylvania newspaper called the Punxsutawney Spirit began promoting the town’s groundhog as the official “Groundhog Day meteorologist” in 1887. The February date comes from several sources – one being that the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar is celebrated on February 2.
The focal point of Groundhog Day is, obviously, the groundhog, which is actually a type of large squirrel and can also be known as a woodchuck. In Punxsutawey, PA, where Groundhog Day was first mentioned and is still celebrated, many know the groundhog as “Punxsutawney Phil.” Phil is adorable, but he is also known for predicting the weather.
As you know, no shadow means an early spring, while a shadow means it will be cold for another six weeks. The meteorological accuracy of this prediction is unknown, but, whether for fun or for tradition, officials in cities and states across the U.S. still follow the Punxsutawney way today. Early morning festivals are held on February 2 all over the U.S. when officials name their own groundhogs and coax them out of their burrows in zoos and other places.
The groundhog predictions are recorded each year by most of the towns that participate. For instance, a groundhog named Queen Charlotte predicted six more weeks of winter in Charlotte, NC when she saw her shadow last year.
Wikipedia has documented several incidents that involved the handling of groundhogs on Groundhog Day. During New York City’s annual Groundhog Day event at the Staten Island Zoo on February 2, 2009, a groundhog named “Chuck” drew blood when biting the mayor’s gloved finger while he was trying to lure Chuck out of his wooden shelter.
Groundhog Day Parties
If you just can’t wait for Mardi Gras or the Super Bowl and are interested in throwing a Groundhog Day party (hey, no judgement here!), you can find recipes for groundhog cakes and ideas for groundhog decorations online.
And, of course, let’s all hope that Queen Charlotte and other nearby groundhogs do not see their shadows on Tuesday!
Information gathered from Wikipedia.
Story by Jessica Patrick. Photo by Rachid H.