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Groundhog Day Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

Groundhogs from which the name of the day comes, are animals that weigh about 15 pounds and live to about eight years.

They are vegetarians and feed on vegetables and fruits. They cope with fear by whistling, which they also ironically do when they are looking for a mate. They swim as well as climb trees.

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Every February 2, tens of thousands of spectators attend Groundhog Day events in Punxsutawney. People look forward to the end of winter and its cold.

Turns out, groundhogs are the season predictors. These animals which usually go into hibernation during late fall come out of their sleep around February.

Tradition speculates that if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, it gets scared and runs back into its burrow, predicting six more weeks of winter weather.

If no shadow is seen then it means an early spring is in the offing.

Groundhog Day History

Groundhog Day was first mentioned in an entry on February 2, 1840, in the diary of James L. Morris of Morgantown, in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. 

This was a Welsh enclave but the diarist was commenting on his neighbors who were of German stock. 

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According to history, the roots of Groundhog Day can be placed in line with the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas.

This was when the clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. These candles would tell how long winter would last.

February 2 lands exactly forty days after Christmas, which is when baby Jesus would be presented to the Temple.

Germans, on the other hand, used hedgehogs to predict weather and brought the tradition with them to the US.

This is after they started noting down animal’s hibernating patterns. They replaced hedgehogs with the available groundhogs and voila!

The first official Groundhog Day celebration was held on February 2, 1887, in Punxsutawney. It was then that watching for Punxsutawney Phil became an official event.

then, other cities have started looking to their own groundhogs, like New York’s Staten Island Chuck and Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee. 

The day and celebration are believed to have been conceived by Punxsutawney Spirit’s editor Clymer Freas, who died in 1942. He sold the idea to a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters who were members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

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The club which was previously known as Punxsutawney Elks Lodge had made a tradition of hunting groundhogs and serving the game meat to members.

It became a club in 1899 and continued the annual hunt and “Groundhog Feast”, slated for September which was late summer. A drink called the “groundhog punch” which was a cross between pork and the chicken flavor was also served. 

Another version of this tradition exists among the Orthodox Christians of Croatia and Serbia. They determine season change from winter through the coming out of the hibernation of the bear.

Just like the groundhog, if the bear sees its shadow and runs away, that’s bad news for people waiting for spring. If it is cloudy and the bear doesn’t see its shadow, then winter is almost over.

Groundhog Day Movie

The celebration was made into a movie called Groundhog Day in the year 1993. The American fantasy comedy film directed by Harold Ramis and written by Ramis and Danny Rubin has been celebrated ever since. 

Bill Murray plays the role of Phil Connors, a TV weatherman who, during an assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event, is caught in a time loop, repeatedly reliving the same day.

Some of the co-stars include Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliott. The movie immortalized the celebration and now thousands of people flock to the town every February to observe the groundhogs. 

The term “groundhog day” is now commonly used in the English language to describe a recurring situation, thanks to the movie.

Today

Today, groundhog day attracts crowds of up to 40,000 people in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, which has the largest annual outcome.

Just last year (2019), during the 133rd year of the tradition, the groundhog was summoned to come out at 7:25 am on February 2, but did not see its shadow.

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