Groundhog Day: A Long Tradition
The Groundhog Day tradition officially began in America on February 2, 1887. Since that time, the event has taken place at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (84 miles north of Pittsburgh)..
Here’s what happens:
The groundhog comes up out of his burrow (probably wakened by the crowds above ground who come to film and report on his doings). If he sees his shadow, spring will come early. No shadow? Then we—and he—are due for six more weeks of winter.
German settlers brought the tradition to the United States. In Germany, they relied on hedgehogs to predict the weather. In Pennsylvania, the immigrants found that groundhogs (also called woodchucks) were more plentiful. For that reason, they decided that in America, the groundhog would be a good-enough meteorologist.
The actual animal behavior that occurs in early February is natural. The hedgehog—and I guess the groundhog, too—begins his hibernation in late fall. Then in early February, the animals think about mating. After a few days of coming out and looking for love—and perhaps finding it—they return to their burrows for a little more shut-eye.
What Happened in 1887
This event became an American tradition in 1887 when a group of groundhog hunters, calling themselves the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, determined that there was one particular groundhog in Punxsutawney who was particularly skilled at predicting the weather. (One would assume this choice was made after they imbibed a few beers.)
The club named this first groundhog Phil. Because the newspaper editor was a club member, the story was well-publicized.
Since that time, the “Phils” that have served as meteorologists previously have made sure there are many little “Phils” to continue the family line. The animals now seem to understand that if they peek out of their burrow on the day when people above ground are stomping around, they will then be left alone for another year.
Today Gobbler’s Knob is a destination for tens of thousands of people who arrive to see what Phil is going to say.
And of course, like all weather people everywhere, the groundhog’s word is gospel—until he is proven wrong.
Lucky for groundhogs, they are long gone by the time people realize they might have been snookered!