The folktale goes like this: The groundhog comes out of his burrow for the first time each year on February 2. If he sees his shadow, he gets scared and goes back into his hole for another six weeks of winter. Translation: if it’s sunny on February 2, winter will last six more weeks. If it’s cloudy and overcast, spring is coming soon.
This legend likely finds its roots from stories told by German immigrants. However, Americans have taken it to the next level.
Each year on February 2, a group of members of the Groundhog Club in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, dress up in historic garb. These people are called the Inner Circle. They walk to Gobbler’s Knob, a hilltop outside of town, and climb upon a stage. With much ceremony, they remove a real groundhog from his burrow, which is actually a wooden cage that looks like a tree stump. This groundhog’s name is Punxsutawney Phil.
The president of the Groundhog Club, who is part of the Inner Circle, then greets Phil and speaks to him in a secret groundhog language known only to the club president and, of course, to groundhogs. The president asks Phil to “prognosticate” for everyone. After some consideration, Phil chooses one of two scrolls put before him.
A member of the Inner Circle then reads the chosen scroll, which pronounces whether Phil has seen his shadow and, hence, the forecast for the end of winter.
This ceremony is witnessed by lots of people who travel to Punxsutawney just for the occasion. In addition, the ceremony is locally televised and web cast. Phil’s decision is reported nationwide in print and on air.
Groundhog Day is not a federal holiday, but the tradition is definitely part of American culture. Groundhog Day has been celebrated in Punxsutawney for over 130 years, but it has been referred to in general at least since 1841. Many children are told the tale and references appear in cartoons, songs, and other pop culture phenomena. One of the most well known references is a Hollywood film released in 1993 starring Bill Murray called Groundhog Day.
However, aside from places like Punxsutawney and a few other towns, there are no regular Groundhog Day celebrations nationwide. It’s simply a fun story to tell children or to enjoy when the weatherman gives a report on February 2.
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