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Groundhog Day (Canadian French: Jour de la Marmotte; Pennsylvania German: Grundsaudaag, Murmeltiertag) is a traditional holiday originating in the United States that is celebrated on February 2. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then the spring season will arrive early, some time before the vernal equinox; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its den, and winter weather will persist for six more weeks.[1]

Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day 2005 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Observed by United States, Canada and Germany
Type Cultural
Significance Supposedly predicts the arrival of spring
Celebrations Announcing whether a groundhog sees its shadow after it emerges from its burrow
Date February 2
Frequency Annual

Modern customs of the holiday involve early morning celebrations to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge,[2] 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.[3]

Groundhog Day was more widely adopted in the U.S. in 1887. Clymer H. Freas was the editor of the local paper Punxsutawney Spirit at the time, and he began promoting the town’s groundhog as the official "Groundhog Day meteorologist".[4]

The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with Punxsutawney Phil. Groundhog Day, already a widely recognized and popular tradition,[5] received widespread attention as a result of the 1993 film Groundhog Day.[6]



The celebration began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. It has its origins in ancient European weather lore, in which a badger or a sacred bear is the prognosticator, as opposed to a groundhog.[7] It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc (the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 2 and also involves weather prognostication[8]), and to St. Swithun's Day on July 15.

Historical originsEdit

The groundhog (Marmota monax) is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels.
Banner of Grundsow Lodsh Nummer Sivva (Groundhog Lodge Number Seven), of Pennsburg, Pennsylvania

The first documented American reference to Groundhog Day can be found in a diary entry,[9] dated February 4, 1841, by Morgantown, Pennsylvania, storekeeper James Morris:

Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans,[10] the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.

From England, the poem:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.[11]

From Scotland, the poem:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There'll be two winters in the year.[11]

From Germany, the poem:

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.[11]

Alternative origin theoriesEdit

In some western countries in the Northern Hemisphere, the 'official' first day of spring is almost seven weeks (46–48 days) after Groundhog Day, on March 20 or March 21; in others, that date is traditionally the middle of spring, just as the solstice in June is midsummer day.[citation needed]

The custom could have been a folk embodiment of the confusion created by the collision of two calendar systems. Some ancient traditions marked the change of season at cross-quarter days such as Imbolc when daylight first makes significant progress against the night. Other traditions held that spring did not begin until the length of daylight overtook night at the Vernal Equinox. So an arbiter, the groundhog/hedgehog, was incorporated as a yearly custom to settle the two traditions. Sometimes spring begins at Imbolc, and sometimes winter lasts six more weeks until the equinox.[12]

Another theory states that the groundhog naturally comes out of hibernation in central Pennsylvania in early February because of the increasing average temperature; under this theory, if German settlement had been centered further north, Groundhog Day would take place at a later date.[13] However, observation of groundhogs in central New Jersey is that they mostly come out of their burrows in mid-March, regardless of Groundhog Day weather.[14]


The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000[15] (nearly eight times the year-round population of the town) have gathered to celebrate the holiday since at least 1886.[16] Other celebrations of note in Pennsylvania take place in Quarryville in Lancaster County,[17] the Anthracite Region of Schuylkill County,[18] and the Sinnamahoning Valley of Bucks County.[19]

The day is observed with various ceremonies at other locations in North America,[20] including Wiarton Willie of Wiarton, Ontario, Arizona (marks the start of boating season),[21] Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia,[22] Staten Island Chuck in New York City,[23] and the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas (which has what is claimed to be the second largest Groundhog celebration in the world).[24]

In 2017 Groundhog Day was scheduled to be observed at zoos in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Samara, Russia.[25]

Meteorological accuracyEdit

According to Groundhog Day organizers, the rodents' forecasts are accurate 75% to 90% of the time.[26] However, a Canadian study for 13 cities in the past 30 to 40 years found that the weather patterns predicted on Groundhog Day were only 37% accurate over that time period.[26] According to the StormFax Weather Almanac and records kept since 1887, Punxsutawney Phil's weather predictions have been correct 39% of the time.[11] The National Climatic Data Center has described the forecasts as "on average, inaccurate" and stated that "[the] groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years."[27]

Part of the reason for the groundhog's inaccuracy is that sunny days occur more often in warmer, summer conditions than they do in colder, winter conditions in the eastern and midwestern United States.[28] Thus, on the basis of persistence alone, a groundhog is more likely to see its shadow when conditions are springlike, and inversely it is less likely to see its shadow during a wintry day.

Similar customsEdit

A similar custom is celebrated among Orthodox Christians in Serbia on 15 February (2 February according to the local religious Julian calendar) during the feast of celebration of Sretenje or The Meeting of the Lord (Candlemas). It is believed that the bear will awaken from winter dormancy on this day, and if it sees (meets) its own shadow in this sleepy and confused state, it will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging the winter. Thus, if it is sunny on Sretenje, it is a sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that the winter is about to end.

In Germany, 27 June is Siebenschläfertag (Seven Sleepers Day). If it rains that day, the rest of summer is supposedly going to be rainy. It might seem to refer to the "Siebenschläfer" squirrel (Glis glis), also known as the "edible dormouse", but it actually commemorates the Seven Sleepers (the actual commemoration day is 25 July).

In the United Kingdom, 15 July is known as St. Swithun's day; it was traditionally believed that, if it rained on that day, it would rain for the next 40 days and nights. National Hedgehog Day, which was marked in the UK on 21 November 2015 out of observance of its domestic hedgehog's declining numbers,[29] has since been moved to 2 February, the same day as Groundhog Day.[30]

Mojave Max, a desert tortoise

Even within the U.S. Groundhog Day is not necessarily observed uniformly throughout the entire country; it is sometimes acknowledged differently in western and southeastern states where groundhogs are generally not considered indigenous. In the state of Alaska, for example, Marmot Day is celebrated on February 2 instead.

The Oregon Zoo in Portland has used hedgehogs instead of groundhogs to predict the weather on Groundhog Day.[31][32]

Likewise, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Clark County, Nevada is home to a similar tradition that has been observed since 2000 with a desert tortoise named Mojave Max.[33]

Louisiana celebrations also vary somewhat from the traditional Groundhog Day theme. Since about the late 1980s, Groundhog Day in New Orleans has featured T-Boy the Nutria, a coypu based at the Audubon Zoo.[34] Since 1997 Pierre C. Shadeaux, also a coypu, has been the focus of "Cajun Groundhog Day" festivities in New Iberia. Because of Louisiana's subtropical climate, Pierre actually forecasts either a longer spring or an earlier summer, as opposed to the usual groundhog options of a longer winter or an earlier spring.[35] Another Louisiana tradition influenced by Groundhog Day occurs in Shreveport[36] on February 1—one day before Groundhog Day—centering on Claude the Cajun Crawfish.[37] Claude annually predicts the weather for Northwest Louisiana-area parades held during Mardi Gras season, a season that has a long history in Louisiana but also happens to overlap with Groundhog Day festivities.[37]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cohen, p. 57.
  2. ^ Yoder, p. xii.
  3. ^ Rosenberger, Homer Tope (1966). The Pennsylvania Germans: 1891–1965. Lancaster, PA: Pennsylvania German Society. pp. 194–199. OCLC 1745108. 
  4. ^ "10 Things You Didn't Know About Groundhog Day". LCstyle. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  5. ^ "Pennsylvania Town Awaits Groundhog Day". New York Times. February 2, 1986. Retrieved January 27, 2011. 
  6. ^ Yoder, pp. 14–15.
  7. ^ Yoder, p. i.
  8. ^ Yoder, p. 43.
  9. ^ History Society of Berks County, Reading, Pennsylvania.
  10. ^ The attribution to the "Germans" may be based on some German Bauernregeln (farmers' rules) like this one: Wenn sich der Dachs zu Lichtmeß sonnt, so gehet er wieder auf vier Wochen in sein Loch. (If the badger is in the sun at Candlemas, he will have to go back into his hole for another four weeks. Joseph Arnold Lewenau : Der angewandte Fresenius; oder, Sammlung geordneter allgemeiner Witterungs- und sogenannter Bauernregeln: mit beygefügten Erklärungen ihres Grundes und vernünftigen Sinnes zu einem nützlichen Gebrauch ... vorzüglich beym Betriebe der Landwirthschaft. Vienna: J.G. Mösle, 1823, p. 20.
  11. ^ a b c d "Groundhog Day". Stormfax Weather Almanac. 2014. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved February 4, 2015. 
  12. ^ Groundhog Day, Margaret Kruesi. Journal of American Folklore. Washington: Summer 2007. Vol. 120, Iss. 477; p. 367+.
  13. ^ Coin, Glenn (February 1, 2015). Groundhog Day 2016: Do you trust a rodent to predict the weather? Syracuse Post-Standard. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  14. ^ "Happy Groundhog Day...again?". Retrieved 2017-10-31. 
  15. ^ Park, PhD, David (February 2, 2006). "Happy Groundhog Day to You!". Archived from the original on February 5, 2009. Retrieved February 5, 2009. 
  16. ^ Yoder, p. 9.
  17. ^ Yoder, pp. 19–28.
  18. ^ Yoder, pp. 29–30.
  19. ^ Yoder, pp. 30-31.
  20. ^ Yoder, pp. 33.
  21. ^ "Hopeful Canadians look to Groundhog Day for predictions of an early spring". Canadian Press. February 2, 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Shubenacadie Sam prepping for Groundhog Day". King's County Register. January 30, 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2014. 
  23. ^ Rosenberg, Eli (February 2, 2016). "Staten Island Groundhog Makes Star Turn, This Year Without de Blasio". N.Y./Region. New York, New York: The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 14, 2016. Retrieved February 14, 2016. 
  24. ^ Colleges in the Midwest: Compare Colleges in Your Region (24 ed.). Peterson's. 2009. p. 298. ISBN 9780768926903. Retrieved February 1, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Groundhog Day 2017: Furry Forecasters Around the World". February 2, 2017. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  26. ^ a b Phillips, David. "Groundhog Day". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation of Canada. 
  27. ^ "Groundhog Forecasters versus the U.S. Temperature Record". NOAA National Climatic Data Center. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  28. ^ Skilling, Tom (November 30, 2017). "Do we have more cloudy days during the winter months?". WGN-TV. Retrieved November 30, 2017. 
  29. ^ "Hedgehog Conservation". House of Commons Hansard (vol. 602, col. 35). November 10, 2015. Retrieved February 3, 2017. 
  30. ^ David Field (February 2, 2017). "HS2 and Hedgehogs at ZSL London Zoo—an update". Retrieved February 3, 2017. 
  31. ^ Teresa Blackman (February 2, 2016). "Oregon Zoo hedgehog predicts an early spring in NW". Retrieved February 3, 2017. 
  32. ^ Liza Javier (February 2, 2017). "Groundhogs other than famous Phil predict early spring". Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  33. ^ Heather Green (February 1, 2016). "Groundhog Day Signals The Watch for Mojave Max, Predictor of Spring". Retrieved February 8, 2016. 
  34. ^ Jacki Jing (February 2, 2015). "Forget Phil! T-Boy the Nutria makes his weather prediction". Retrieved February 1, 2016. 
  35. ^ Lindsey Meaux (February 3, 2009). "Cajun groundhog predicts lengthy spring for the South: Pierre C. Shadeaux doesn't see his shadow". Daily Reveille (p. 1). 
  36. ^ Will Chapman (February 25, 2014). "Our Pierre, original Cajun Groundhog, more accurate". Retrieved February 2, 2016. 
  37. ^ a b Pat Anne (February 2, 2006). "Claude the Cajun Crawfish predicts party weather in Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana!". Retrieved February 8, 2016. 


Further readingEdit

  • Aaron, Michael A., Brewster B. Boyd, Jr., Melanie J. Curtis, Paul M. Sommers (January 2001). "Punxsutawney's Phenomenal Phorecaster". The College Mathematics Journal, 32(1):26–29. doi:10.2307/2687216.
  • Old, W. C., and P. Billin-Frye (2004). The Groundhog Day Book of Facts and Fun. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman.
  • Pulling, A. F. (2001). Around Punxsutawney. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia.

External linksEdit