by Denise Grant
Many may not realize that using animals to predict weather conditions dates back to at least 1000 years. This makes the tradition of Groundhogs day new, but the holiday in United States and Canada can offer days of entertainment. A movie starring Bill Murray even captured the event.
Groundhogs Day History
It was during the Dark Ages in Europe that the widespread superstition took hold. Peasants and nobles alike noticed a strong connection between a bright, sunny, Medieval Candleman’s Day.
In Germany it was the hedgehog that was noted as being affected by the sun.
Farmers would wait until late winter and watch the hibernating animal come out of his burrow. If the hedgehog saw his shadow on a bright, sunlit day he quickly returned to hibernate. The farmers took this to mean there would be six more weeks of winter.
German settlers later brought this belief with them when they settled in Pennsylvania. The hedgehog was replaced with the more common American groundhog.
There are many groundhogs that predict the weather but Punxsutawney Phil is the most famous of the groundhogs. Each year, paparazzi from around the world meet in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2, Groundhog’s Day. The small town of Punxsutawney spills over with curiosity seekers.
Groundhogs Day Trivia
- The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper is credited with printing the news of the first observance in 1886. This was one year before the first legendary trek to Gobbler’s Knob
- During Prohibition Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn’t allowed a drink.
- If you ask how many groundhogs there have been since 1886 you will get the reply, “one of course!” Rumor has it that there is a magical elixir that Phil drinks that gives him youth.
- In 1981 Phil wore a yellow ribbon in honor of the American hostages in Iran
- Phil traveled to Washington DC in 1986 to meet with President Reagan. Groundhog Club President Jim Means, Al Anthony and Bill Null joined him.
- Phil met Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburg in 1987.
- In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. In the years following the release of the movie, record crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney!
- Phil appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1995.
- In 2001, Phil’s prediction was shown live on the JumboTron at Times Square in New York City.
- Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell attended the ceremonies, making him the first sitting governor ever to do so.
People may celebrate Groundhogs day, but I just have too many bad gardening experiences to be too attached to this furry rodent!