Groundhog Day is a popular North American tradition observed in the United States and Canada on February 2. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks; but if it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early.
While the tradition remains popular in modern times, studies have found no consistent correlation between a groundhog seeing its shadow and the subsequent arrival time of spring-like weather.
The weather lore was brought from German-speaking areas where the badger is the forecasting animal. This appears to be an enhanced version of the lore that clear weather on the Christian festival of Candlemas forebodes a prolonged winter.
The Groundhog Day ceremony held at Punxsutawney in western Pennsylvania, centering on a semi-mythical groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, has become the most frequently attended ceremony. Grundsow Lodges in Pennsylvania Dutch Country in the southeastern part of the state observe the occasion as well. Other cities in the United States and Canada also have adopted the event.
The Pennsylvania Dutch were immigrants from Germanic-speaking areas of Europe. The Germans already had a tradition of marking Candlemas (February 2) as “Badger Day” (Dachstag), where if a badger emerging found it to be a sunny day thereby casting a shadow, it foreboded the prolonging of winter by four more weeks.
Candlemas is a primarily Catholic festival but also known in the German Protestant churches. In folk religion, various traditions and superstitions continue to be linked with the holiday, although this was discouraged by the Protestant Reformers in the 16th century. Notably, several traditions akin to weather lores use Candlemas’ weather to predict the start of spring.
The weather-predicting animal on Candlemas usually was the badger, although regionally the animal was the bear or the fox. The original weather-predicting animal in Germany had been the bear, another hibernating mammal, but when they grew scarce the lore became altered.
Similarity to the groundhog lore has been noted for the German formula “Sonnt sich der Dachs in der Lichtmeßwoche, so geht er auf vier Wochen wieder zu Loche” (If the badger sunbathes during Candlemas-week, for four more weeks he will be back in his hole). A slight variant is found in a collection of weather lore printed in Austria in 1823.
So the same tradition as the Germans, except that winter’s spell would be prolonged for six weeks instead of four, was maintained by the Pennsylvanians on Groundhog Day. In Germany, the animal was dachs or badger. For the Pennsylvania Dutch, it became the dox which in Deitsch referred to “groundhog”.
The Slumbering Groundhog Lodge, which was formed in 1907, has carried out the ceremonies that take place in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. It used to be a contending rival to Punxsutawney over the Groundhog Day fame. It employs a taxidermic specimen (stuffed woodchuck).
In Southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl in the center of the table.
In Milltown, New Jersey, Milltown Mel predicts the weather at the American Legion in an early morning ceremony. The event has gained much attention and each year grows larger and larger. During weekdays, people will often attend before school or work. Coffee and Doughnuts are donated by the event’s sponsor Bronson & Guthlein Funeral Home. Mel is housed year round at the funeral home. She has an outdoor area as well as an indoor, climate controlled, cage. She is cared for by the owner of Bronson and one of his tenents, who is a volunteer EMT with the local rescue squad.
In the Midwest, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, is the self-proclaimed “Groundhog Capital of the World”. This title taken in response to The Punxsutawney Spirit’s 1952 newspaper article describing Sun Prairie as a “remote two cow village buried somewhere in the wilderness…” In 2015, Jimmy the Groundhog bit the ear of Mayor Jon Freund and the story quickly went viral worldwide. The next day a mayoral proclamation absolved Jimmy XI of any wrongdoing.
Buckeye Chuck, Ohio’s official State Groundhog, is one of two weather predicting groundhogs. He resides in Marion, Ohio.
Staten Island Chuck is the official weather-forecasting woodchuck for New York City. Dunkirk Dave (a stage name for numerous groundhogs that have filled the role since 1960) is the local groundhog for Western New York, handled by Bob Will, a typewriter repairman who runs a rescue shelter for groundhogs.
In Washington, D.C., the Dupont Circle Groundhog Day event features Potomac Phil, another taxidermic specimen. From his first appearance in 2012 to 2018, Phil’s spring predictions invariably agreed with those of the more lively Punxsutawney Phil, who made his predictions half an hour earlier. In addition, Phil always predicted correctly six more months of political gridlock. However, after being accused of collusion in 2018, Potomac Phil contradicted Punxsutawney Phil in 2019 and, further, predicted two more years of political insanity.
In Raleigh, NC, an annual event at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences includes Sir Walter Wally. According to museum officials, Wally has been correct 58% of the time vs. Punxsutawney Phil’s 39%.