As the end of January nears, the more our curiosity peaks about what Punxsutawney Phil will have to say about the end of winter. As a child, I had always awaited February 2 in hopes spring would be closer than ever. Unfortunately, it never came soon enough for me as I grew up in Wisconsin. I had thought Groundhog Day was just a silly tradition in the United States. After further research, I have found Groundhog Day has been a tradition in many European countries for centuries. This article takes a look into the history of Groundhog Day and why it is more a tradition to celebrate rather than just a silly media filled day for Phil.
Groundhog Day stems from a tradition in Europe known as Candlemas and the early Christian days of candle lighting. The candles were lit by clergymen and given to the people. Candlemas was a tradition which marked a highlight during winter and the weather during that day was of great importance.
There are various different Candlemas songs and poems which provides the roots of “if he sees his shadow, six weeks of winter are to come”. The old English song was written as follows:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.”
According to the Scottish tradition, the couplet was written as follows:
“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be twa (two) winters in the year”.
So in short, if the day is sunny, we are guaranteed six more weeks of winter because there are little to no shadows on a cloudy day.
It is thought the Romans were the first to participate in this tradition and passed it on to the Germans. The Germans, in turn, came to the consensus that if an animal, notably the hedgehog would shed his shadow on a bright sunny day. If this were to happen, there would be a long winter ahead or a “Second Winter”.
Now at this point, you might wonder how this tradition was started in the United States. Well, Groundhog Day was started in Pennsylvania by the earliest settlers in the state. The first people who settled Pennsylvania were Germans and they found a plethora of groundhogs throughout the state. They believed the groundhog was the most intelligent and rational animal, thus making it the animal used for predicting the end of winter. They believed the groundhog would be wise enough if the sun should appear on February 2, it would see its own shadow and return to its underground home for six more weeks of winter.
During this early American tradition of Groundhog Day, the Germans would recite their own Candlemas song which went “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day/ So far will the snow swirl until May”. Compared to the other Candlemas Day songs, this is the one which most closely resembles the first Punxsutawney Groundhog Day observances. This is because there are many references to the size of the shadows in the early Groundhog Day predictions.
In 19th century America, farmers knew that regardless of how overcast the sky was on Groundhog Day winter was not coming to an end. If they did not have half of their hay left, there would be lean times for their cattle because of the lack of fresh grass and spring appeared.
Punxsutawney Phil has become an American icon, thanks to the media. He has had many notable milestones in his appearances. One was during prohibition; Phil had threatened to inflict sixty weeks of winter on the local community if he was forbidden to drink. Another was in 1958, when Phil claimed that the United States was the first country to have a man-made satellite to orbit the Earth. He named it the “United States Chucknik” instead of the Soviet Sputnik or Muttnik. In 1981, Phil made his appearance while wearing a yellow ribbon in tribute to the American hostages in Iran. In 1995, Phil appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. In 1986, Phil journeyed from his home in Punxsutawney to meet with President Reagan in Washington, D.C. He was accompanied by Groundhog President Jim Means, Al Anthony, and Bill Null.