Groundhog Day (Pennsylvania German: Grund’sau dåk, Grundsaudaag, Grundsow Dawg, Murmeltiertag; Nova Scotia: Daks Day) is a popular tradition celebrated in the United States and Canada on 2 February. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees a shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks. If it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early.
Groundhogs are creatures within the rodent family that weigh between 12 and 15 pounds and can live up to 8 years. These animals are omnivores, but commonly feast on grass, vegetables, and fruit. Groundhogs have the ability to climb trees and, much like beavers, swim. Each fall, groundhogs go into hibernation until March. When the animals emerge from hibernation, their initial purpose is to find a mate.
The weather lore of Groundhog Day was brought from German-speaking areas where the badger (German: Dachs) is the forecasting animal. This appears to be an enhanced version of the lore that clear weather on Candlemas forebodes a prolonged winter. While this tradition remains popular in modern times, studies have found no consistent correlation between a groundhog seeing its shadow or not and the subsequent arrival time of spring-like weather.
The Groundhog Day ceremony held at Punxsutawney in western Pennsylvania, centering around a semi-mythical groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, has become the most attended where crowds as large as 40,000 gather each year (nearly eight times the year-round population of the town). Grundsow Lodges in Pennsylvania Dutch Country in the southeast part of the state celebrate Groundhog Day as well. Other cities in the United States and Canada have also adopted the event. In 2009, Quebec began to mark the day (Canadian French: Jour de la Marmotte) with its own groundhog.
If you are in Punxsutawney on 2 February, make sure to head to Gobbler’s Knob at the crack of dawn to watch for Punxsutawney Phil coming out of his burrow! If you do not celebrate Groundhog Day, you could still share the spirit by going on a hike or trail walk and look for groundhogs, if they are native to your environment. If not, you could visit your local zoo to see whether they have groundhogs or not.
What about you? Tell us your favorite Groundhog Day activity, or share your most memorable Groundhog Day celebration!