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Ground Hog Day



Ground Hog Day

European Roots

(Adapted from "Groundhog Day: 1886 to 1992" by Bill Anderson)

Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is a popular tradition in the United States. It is also a legend that traverses centuries, its origins clouded in the mists of time with ethnic cultures and animals awakening on specific dates. Myths such as this tie our present to the distant past when nature did, indeed, influence our lives. It is the day that the Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow.

If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole.

If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.

The groundhog tradition stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe, and for centuries the custom was to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people. Even then, it marked a milestone in the winter and the weather that day was important.

According to an old English song: 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 an old Scotch couplet: If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There'll be twa (two) winters in the year. Another variation of the Scottish rhyme: If Candlemas day be dry and fair, The half o' winter to come and mair, If Candlemas day be wet and foul, The half of winter's gone at Yule.


The Roman legions, during the conquest of the northern country, supposedly brought this tradition to the Teutons, or Germans, who picked it up and concluded that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of bad weather, which they interpolated as the length of the "Second Winter."

Pennsylvania's earliest settlers were Germans and they found groundhogs to in profusion in many parts of the state. They determined that the groundhog, resembling the European hedgehog, was a most intelligent and sensible animal and therefore decided that if the sun did appear on February 2nd, so wise an animal as the groundhog would see its shadow and hurry back into its underground home for another six weeks of winter.

The Germans recited:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May.

This passage may be the one most closely represented by the first Punxsutawney Groundhog Day observances because there were references to the length of shadows in early Groundhog Day predictions.

Another February 2nd belief, used by American 19th century farmers, was:

Groundhog Day - Half your hay.

New England farmers knew that we were not close to the end of winter, no matter how cloudy February 2nd was. Indeed, February 2nd is often the heart of winter. If the farmer didn't have half his hay remaining, there may have been lean times for the cows before spring and fresh grass arrived.

n 1723, the Delaware Indians settled Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna Rivers. The town is 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, at the intersection of Route 36 and Route 119. The Delawares considered groundhogs honorable ancestors. According to the original creation beliefs of the Delaware Indians, their forebears began life as animals in "Mother Earth" and emerged centuries later to hunt and live as men.

The name Punxsutawney comes from the Indian name for the location
"ponksad-uteney" which means "the town of the sandflies."
The name
woodchuck comes from the Indian legend of "Wojak,
the groundhog" considered by them to be their ancestral grandfather.

When German settlers arrived in the 1700s, they brought a tradition known as Candlemas Day, which has an early origin in the pagan celebration of Imbolc. It came at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition held that if the weather was fair, the second half of Winter would be stormy and cold. For the early Christians in Europe, it was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of Winter. A lighted candle was placed in each window of the home. The day's weather continued to be important. If the sun came out February 2, halfway between Winter and Spring, it meant six more weeks of wintry weather.

The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College:

February 4, 1841 - from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."

According to the old English saying:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

From Scotland:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There'll be two winters in the year.

From Germany:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.

And from America:

If the sun shines on Groundhog Day;
Half the fuel and half the hay.



If the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of Winter. Germans watched a badger for the shadow. In Pennsylvania, the groundhog, upon waking from mid-Winter hibernation, was selected as the replacement.

Pennsylvania's official celebration of Groundhog Day began on February 2nd, 1886 with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper's editor, Clymer Freas: "Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow." The groundhog was given the name "Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary'' and his hometown thus called the "Weather Capital of the World.'' His debut performance: no shadow - early Spring.

The legendary first trip to Gobbler's Knob was made the following year




Punxsutawney Phil, King of the Groundhogs. Seers of Seers,
Prognosticators of Prognosticators, Weather Prophet without Peer
gave the following proclaimation:

Happy Groundhog Day my friends,
I know you hope winter soon ends.
I am very glad I don't count the chads,
But as a committee of one,
I rely on the sun.
You know what the meaning of it is:
Now I see my shadow, gee whiz!
Six more weeks of winter there is!



(sung to the tune of "Up On The Housetop")
(words by: Kathy Bish)

Version 1: If Phil does not see his shadow

Up at the Knob the groundhogs pause
Sitting up and showing claws.
Is there a shadow her today?
If not spring is on the way.

Cheer, Cheer, Cheer
Spring is here!
Cheer, Cheer, Cheer
Spring is here!
Up at the Knob it is so clear
We're waiting for Springtime to appear!

Version 2: If Phil sees his shadow

Up at the Knob the groundhogs pause
Sitting up and showing claws.
"I see my shadow." says old Phil
Six more weeks of winter chill.

Boo, hoo, hoo,
We're so blue!
Boo, hoo, hoo,
We're so blue!
Up at the Knob when shadows come
Six more weeks till we have sun!


It is said that in the the summer of 1887 a group of local hunters and gourmets held a groundhog hunt and picnic and celebrated the event by barbequing their game and washing it down with locally brewed beer. The city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper was a man named Clymer Freas. Inspired by the hunt, the fellowship or the beer, he dubbed the picnickers the "Punxsutawney Groundhog Club". He recalled the Pennsylvania Dutch legend of the groundhog as a weather prophet and claimed for the Punxsutawney Groundhog all weather rights. He created a home for him on Gobbler's Knob and a fame that is now world wide.

W.O. Smith, a U.S. Congressman and owner of the Punxsutawney Spirit worked hard at keeping the legend alive. His successors followed suit .. until today when network television covers the event and broadcasts it live around the world.

For many years, the Groundhog Club was headed by the rotund country doctor named Frank Lorenzo. He was an orthopedic surgeon who developed a screw used to mend broken hips and joints eroded by arthritis. On Groundhog Day he entertained his friends who included politicians, railroad officials, doctors, lawyers, judges, and newspaper people throughout the state. Chartered trains brought his guests to Punxsutawney for the day's events. Lorenzo promoted and defended the Punxsutawney Groundhog to all comers in ringing tones that defied argument.

When he died in 1952, the mantle and his cane passed to his friend, Sam Light, who infused the legend with his own colorful personality. A coal operator and sportsman, Light created the costume, a tall silk hat and cutaway coat, that is most familiar to followers of the Punxsutawney Groundhog. How did he arrive at this particular outfit: "The top hat and cutaway are the traditional dress for dignitaries greeting Very Important Persons" Light explained, leaving no doubt that he considered the Punxsutawney Groundhog very VIP indeed.

Light, who raised champion English setter dogs for a hobby and is in the Field Trial Hall of Fame, retired as Groundhog Club president in 1976, saying, "I've had a lot of fun, but the Groundhog only confers longevity, not immortality, on its followers."

He was succeeded by Charles Erhard who, as owner of Punxsutawney's first radio station, had worked with Light for many years in promoting the groundhog on radio and television. Erhard served until 1982 when he retired to Florida.

He was succeeded by Jim Means, a prominent local contractor, who had been Phil's handler for many years. The current president is former groundhog-handler Bud Dunkel who runs a local roofing company.

When Punxsutawney built an ultra-modern civic center in 1974, it included an air-conditioned, glass enclosed Groundhog Zoo. Built into a section of the children's library, the zoo has a plastic glass window fronting the town square. The zoo is the home of a pair of groundhogs known as "Phil," a relative and namesake of the famous Seer and his mate "Phyllis."

All Punxsutawney residents bask in the glow of the honors and fame of Punxsutawney Phil. In fact, no matter what degree of fame a Punxsutawneyite achieves, the town's most famous resident will always be the groundhog. The official Groundhog weather proclamation is a wondrous thing, full of dramatic "Hear ye's" and "whereases" and bone-chilling descriptions of the snow and sleet and ice to follow. The Seer's prediction is duly recorded in the Congressional record and routinely gets front page coverage in the nation's newspapers and in English-language newspapers throughout the world.

The Movie:

The Groundhog Day festivities on Feb. 2, 1992 were joined by actor Bill Murray as he was studying up for his then upcoming movie, "Groundhog Day". He and Columbia Pictures set out recreate the Punxsutawney Groundhog Day to the smallest detail. There were, however, changes made, but the result was good and Punxsutawney's famous Weather Groundhog became a movie star. For more on the movie, see the site entitled, " Groundhog Day Movie Page"

Columbia Pictures decided to film the movie in a location more accessable to a major metropolitan center. Punxsutawney lies 80 miles north of Pittsburgh, and the highways in the area are not the best, so Woodstock, Illinois was chosen as the site. Unfortunately, Woodstock's terrain is devoid of western Pennsylvania's senic rolling hills. Never-the-less, Woodstock was "Punxsutawney-ized" for the production to begin. The actual Gobbler's Knob is a wooded hill with a wonderful view; the Gobbler's Knob in the movie is moved to the town square. The Punxsutawney Gobbler's Knob was recreated to scale and detail in Woodstock's town square based on notes and videotape the crew made on it's visit to Punxsutawney on Feb. 2nd.

The movie's script was altered to include the elaborate ceremony of the Inner Circle on Groundhog Day. The original groundhogs cast for the movie turned out to be too small. "He must have weighed 30 pounds!" Bill Murray remarked after having the opportunity to handle Phil following the Feb. 2nd ceremony. A suitable stand-in for Phil had to be located as a result.

Some of the store's names in Punxsutawney were used in the movie ...such asThe Smart Shop and Stewart's Drug Store. The police cruisers of Punxsutawney were recreated for the movie also. They also used the groundhog head garbage cans and Groundhog Festival flags that line the streets of Punxsutawney. Many people travel to Punxsutawney to see the Punxsutawney that they saw in the movie. They wonder why it seems so different but yet looks so similar. It's the magic of Hollywood!

Groundhogs are also know as "woodchucks", "whistle pigs" and "marmots". The groundhog is a member of the rodent family. Typically, an adult groundhog can grow to weigh approximately eight to fourteen pounds and average about 22 inches. and they can be found from as far west as Alaska and British Columbia, across Canada, south into Oklahoma, and as far east into all the North East United States.

Groundhogs are "fossorial" - meaning, they live most of their lives underground. They dig burrows or "dens", that have several entrances, each connected with the main tunnel and nesting chamber where the groundhog will hibernate for the winter. Their whiskers help them to "see" underground, but above ground they have excellent hearing and eyesight!

Their natural enemies are the fox, wildcats, coyotes and hawks. Another natural enemy of the groundhog is man. Man has built homes and roads in many of the areas the groundhog has called home, reducing the size of the natural environment for Dunkirk Dave and others like him.


In the wild, groundhogs like to eat leaves, clover, the soft stem parts of wildflowers like the buttercup, daisies, dandelions and thistles. He also likes to eat the bark of young trees that is scratched or nibbled loose. Blackberries, raspberries and cherries are Dunkirk Dave's favorite dessert!

Groundhogs can create a fair bit trouble by helping themselves to crops that farmers grow. Sometimes, a taste of alfalfa, soybean or corn is just too irresistible!

Why do groundhogs eat so much? They have to eat to build up their fat stores for their long winter nap, called "hibernation". Hibernation is a very deep, sleeplike condition where breathing and the heartbeat slows down so much, you can barely tell the animal is alive.

Many different types of animals hibernate for the winter, because that is the time when food is most scarce and the temperature is very cold. Groundhog bodies store up fat and sugars from their warm weather feasts, and around about October, groundhogs are so fat, they can barely walk!

As the weather begins to get cooler, the groundhog makes his way to his nesting chamber and snuggles down for a 5 month nap! Can you imagine sleeping for 5 months? You would wake up very hungry and thirsty, wouldn't you?


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