This Day In History: 02/02/1887 - First Groundhog Day

This Day In History: 02/02/1887 - First Groundhog Day

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The first Ground Hog day introducing Punxsutawney Phil, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Samuel Clemens known as Mark Twain is released and the first GI Joe hits the market in This Day in History video. The date is February 2nd. Willie Nelson is accused of tax evasion and hands over $9 million of the $17 million the IRS says he owes.

Legend & Lore

One holiday that brings thousands of people together from all over the world to celebrate the prediction of a furry forecaster.

What would you rather be doing in the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter in western PA? How about enjoying the ambiance of the brisk night air with thousands of new friends by your side, waiting for the Seer of Seers, Punxsutawney Phil, to make his prognostication sounds like a great thing to experience!

The History

As time rolled on the day evolved into another form. The following English folk song highlights the transition to weather prognostication.

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

This &ldquointerpretation&rdquo of Candlemas Day became the norm for most of Europe. As you can read, there is no mention of an animal of any kind in the preceding song. It wasn't until this traditional belief was introduced to Germany that an animal was introduced into the lore, hence another evolution of February 2nd. If, according to German lore, the hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day there would be a &ldquoSecond Winter&rdquo or 6 more weeks of bad weather. As German settlers came to what is now the United States, so too came their traditions and folklore. With the absence of hedgehogs in the United States, a similar hibernating animal was chosen. This leads us to yet another evolution in the legend and to present day Punxsutawney.

Here's How Groundhog Day Got Started

T o the unfamiliar, Groundhog Day is perhaps one of America&rsquos weirdest traditions. Every Feb. 2, people wait for a large, furry rodent to see his shadow and then we predict the weather based on the animal&rsquos actions.

But the winter holiday has a long history rooted in everything from early Christian traditions in Europe to 19th century American newspapers. Here is everything you need to know about how Groundhog Day got its start.

The origin story

The idea of Groundhog Day comes from an ancient Christian celebration known as Candlemas Day, which marked the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. On Candlemas Day, clergy would bless candles needed for winter and distribute them to the people, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s website says. Superstition held that if the day was sunny and clear, people could expect a long, rough winter, but if the sky was cloudy, warm weather would arrive soon.

The Germans then expanded on this tradition, introducing the hedgehog to the mix. They believed, according to the Groundhog Day website, that if the sun appeared and the hedgehog saw his shadow, there would be six more weeks of bad weather, or a &ldquoSecond Winter.&rdquo

Groundhog Day in the United States

Many of Pennsylvania&rsquos early settlers were German, and they brought this tradition with them, switching the hedgehog for the groundhog, which could be more easily found in their new home, according to the Punxsutawney site.

In 1886, the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper printed the first news of a Groundhog Day observance. The next year, everything fell into place. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club celebrated for the first time at Gobbler&rsquos Knob, according to, and the newspaper&rsquos editor declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America&rsquos official weather-forecasting groundhog.

What Groundhog Day is like today

Since then, the tradition has grown in popularity with many other cities across the country hold their own Groundhog Day celebrations. But none are as elaborate as the one that takes place at Gobbler&rsquos Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania every Feb. 2. This year will by Punxsutawney Phil’s (or rather his descendant’s) 131st prediction.

Tens of thousands of visitors show up for the event each year, according to the official website, and in case you can&rsquot make it in person like Bill Murray in the 1993 hit movie Groundhog Day, there is a live stream of the prediction for all to watch.

The Irish roots behind America's Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day predicts the end of winter with the appearance of a shadow under this furry mammal but its true history lies with a witch of Celtic myth, Imbolc, the holiday associated with St. Brigid and Roman hedgehogs!

Made internationally famous by the 1993 Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, celebrated on Feb 2, predicts the end of winter. By examining the shadow below a groundhog held up weathermen swear they can predict the end of winter or if it will continue on for another six weeks. However, its true Irish origins are lesser-known.


The true history of the day goes right back to the Irish Celtic festival, Imbolc, which marks the beginning of spring. Celebrated on Feb 1 and associated with the goddess of fertility, now known as St. Brigid, Imbolc marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is a celebration of the upcoming spring and the longer days ahead.

Read more

Celtic fertility goddess Brighid

It was was said that on the eve of Imbolc, Feb 1, the Celtic fertility goddess Brighid was said to travel from home to home granting blessings to virtuous inhabitants while they slept.

The people even left milk and food for Brighid as she went about her travels. The goddess was believed to have had the power to shift the season from the months of darkness to the months of light, and people would light candles to symbolize this.

The Cailleach / the witch

Fire was always a central theme in this battle between winter and spring. In Celtic myth it was said that an old woman or witch, known as the Cailleach, gathered firewood for the rest of winter.

A dark figure the Cailleach wished winter to last longer and would ensure Feb 1 was bright and sunny so she could collect enough wood for the rest of the winter. If the day was dark and cloudy it means the Cailleach would sleep and be unable to gather more would, therefore spring would surely arrive soon.

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Catholic Candelmas

Eventually, these pagan traditions merged with Christianity and became what is known in the Catholic Church's calendar as Candlemas. Celebrated on Feb 2, Candlemas is the commemoration of the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the Temple. Candles were traditionally blessed at this festival.

It's believed that if there's bright weather on Candlemas there would be more bad weather to come (just like the Cailleach).

A traditional Candlemas poem goes:

If Candlemas be fair and bright, Then Winter will have another flight If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come not again.

Roman Hedgehogs

You might well ask where the groundhog comes into the telling this tale. For that, we must look back to the ancient Romans who also believed they could predict the year's weather however in their case it was linked to soothsaying.

The Romans looked to hedgehogs for guidance. It was said that if during hibernation, he (the hedgehog) looks out of his den on Feb 2 and sees his shadow it means there is a clear moon and six more weeks of winter so he returns to his burrow.

This tradition was carried through Europe, including in Germany. It was with the arrival of Germans to Pennsylvania that they took up the tradition once more. However, as hedgehogs are not native to the state they turned to the now-famous groundhog for their predictions.

So as Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario and Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania are held aloft on Feb 2 this year, remember the ancient Irish and European history of this day, and let's all pray for an early spring.

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Today in History, February 2, 1887: Punxsutawney held its first Groundhog Day festival

A file photo of Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume with Punxsutawney Phil. (Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Today is Feb. 2. On this date in:

New Amsterdam – now New York City – was incorporated.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican-American War, was signed.

The legendary Alaska Serum Run ended as the last of a series of dog mushers brought a life-saving treatment to Nome, the scene of a diphtheria epidemic, six days after the drug left Nenana.

The remainder of Nazi forces from the Battle of Stalingrad surrendered in a major victory for the Soviets in World War II.

President Harry S. Truman sent a 10-point civil rights program to Congress, where it ran into fierce opposition from southern lawmakers.

Public schools in Arlington and Norfolk, Virginia, were racially desegregated without incident.

NBC News reported the FBI had conducted a sting operation targeting members of Congress using phony Arab businessmen in what became known as “Abscam,” a codename protested by Arab-Americans.

In a dramatic concession to South Africa’s black majority, President F.W. de Klerk lifted a ban on the African National Congress and promised to free Nelson Mandela.

A grim report from the world’s leading climate scientists and government officials said global warming was so severe, it would “continue for centuries” and that humans were to blame.

Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, was found dead in his New York apartment from a combination of heroin, cocaine and other drugs.

Feb. 2: Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, actor ("Capote" "The Master" "Doubt) and director ("Jack Goes Boating"), winner of Academy Award for Best Actor (2005) (Photo: AP)

At the sentencing hearing in Michigan for former sports doctor Larry Nassar, a distraught father of three girls who’d been sexually abused tried to attack Nassar before being tackled by sheriff’s deputies and hauled out of court.

Groundhog Day 2021

Happy Groundhog Day 2021! Did Phil see his shadow? Will we enjoy an early spring? Find out—and learn more about this unusual holiday—which has its roots in astronomy and some weird European traditions, including a famous weather-predicting groundhog!

When Is Groundhog Day? What Is Groundhog Day?

Groundhog Day is celebrated every year on February 2. Although the modern holiday is a uniquely American tradition, the history stretches hundreds of years back to European traditions and even ancient times.

The most famous tradition today involves a groundhog predicting the conclusion of winter by seeing his own shadow. According to weather lore:

  • If the plump prognosticator emerges from his hole on a clear day and sees his shadow, he will retreat and there will be six more weeks of wintry weather.
  • If he emerges from his burrow and does NOT see his shadow, then early spring weather is right around the corner.

What most don’t realize is that Groundhog Day is actually rooted in astronomy—and the movement of the Earth around the Sun.

In the Northern Hemisphere, this date marks the midpoint between the winter solstice in December and the spring equinox in March. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Groundhog Day marks the halfway point between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox.)

More about that history below. Onto the real question:

Groundhog Day 2021: Did Phil See His Shadow?

We’re talking about that most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, the Western Pennsylvania groundhog. (Yes, there are other groundhog celebrations as well such as the one in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.)

This groundhog’s full name is actually “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather-Prophet Extraordinary.” It was so proclaimed by the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” in 1887, the same year they declared Punxsutawney to be the weather capital of the world.

Every February 2, the “faithful followers of Phil” watch with bated breath as the groundhog emerges from his burrow. Will he see his shadow and retreat? Or, will he stay above ground in anticipation of an early spring?

The Verdict!

In 2021, the celebration went virtual and we were there. (In other words, we got up early to watch the show!). Punxsutawney Phil predicted:

How Accurate is the Groundhog’s Prediction?

According to NOAA , Punxsutawney Phil has accurately predicted the coming of spring 40% of the time. That’s not exactly a great track record. (Our guess is that “Phil” isn’t naturally emerging from his borrow to the paparazzi cameras.)

Of course, it’s all in good humor. As the Almanac says, “If he sees his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter if he doesn’t, it’ll be six weeks until spring.” Get it?

The Interesting History of Groundhog Day

Originally, Groundhog Day was a Celtic festival marking the year’s first cross-quarter day, or a midpoint between seasons. Read more about the ancient Celtic calendar here.

Celebrated at the beginning of February, the day was called Imbolc—a term from Old Irish that is most often translated as “in the belly”—a reference to the soon-to-arrive lambs of spring. The celebration of Imbolc signaled that the Sun was halfway through its advance towards the spring equinox, and the season of new birth and light was on the horizon.

This day has also been called St. Brigid’s Day, which stems from a mixing of figures and traditions from pagan and Christian beliefs. The Celtic goddess Brigantia is associated with dawn, light, and spring, which are qualities later associated with Brigid of Kildare, a Christian saint (and one of Ireland’s patron saints).

Although it is distinct from Imbolc, the Christian festival of light Candlemas is also observed at this time of year (February 2). The name refers to the candles lit that day in churches, which celebrate the presentation of the Christ Child in the temple of Jerusalem.

Groundhog Day has a rich history based on a deeper meaning it speaks to the triumph of spring over winter—and birth over death. Again, note the appearance of light over dark with the appearance of candles and dawn—and, of course, the spiritual light of a holier presence.

Why a Groundhog?

So how does the groundhog fit into this ancient festival? Historically, a groundhog wasn’t the animal of choice: a bear brought the forecast to the people of France and England, while those in Germany looked to a badger for a sign.

In the 1800s, German immigrants to Pennsylvania brought their Candlemas legends with them. Finding no badgers but lots of groundhogs (also called woodchucks or whistlepigs), they adapted the New World species to fit the lore.

Today, that lore has grown into fun winter festivals, with Punxsutawney Phil and furry fellows in other states presiding.

What Is Groundhog Day’s Connection to Weather?

Since the traditional celebration anticipated the planting of crops, a central focus of the festivities was the forecasting of either an early spring or a lingering winter.

Sunshine on Candlemas was said to indicate the return of winter. Similarly…

When the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day,
There it will stick till the 2nd of May

  • It was not held as a good omen if the day itself was bright and sunny, for that betokened snow and frost to continue to the hiring of the laborers 6 weeks later on Lady Day.
  • If it was cloudy and dark, warmth and rain would thaw out the fields and have them ready for planting.

Our Groundhog Day is a remote survivor of that belief. Though we recognize animal behavior isn’t the only way to judge planting dates, the tradition continues, often with a wink and a smile.

Want to see more accurate planting dates? Check out our Planting Calendar to find dates for starting seeds, transplanting, and harvesting in your area.

Groundhog Day and Candlemas Lore

If Candlemas [February 2] be mild and gay,
Go saddle your horses and buy them hay
But if Candlemas be stormy and black,
It carries the winter away on its back

Just half your wood and half your hay,
Should be remaining on Candlemas Day

On Candlemas Day,
The good goose begins to lay

When the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day,
There it will stick till the 2nd of May

On Candlemas Day, if the thorns hang a drop,
You are sure of a good pea crop

Wait, What Exactly Is a Groundhog?

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck or whistlepig, typically makes its home in the brambles and thickets that grow where forests meet fields. There, it digs burrows between 4 and 6 feet deep and up to 40 feet long—removing as much as 700 pounds of dirt in the process.

Like its squirrel relatives, the groundhog eats leaves, grass, flowers, bark, and twigs and climbs trees to reach tender buds or fruit. This furry animal will also go after just about any crop, favoring beans, peas, and carrot tops. It may even take a bite out of every squash or pumpkin in a row, instead of consuming just one. See how to deter groundhogs in the garden.

But the mischief-maker is not all nuisance. Its burrows allow air and water to penetrate the soil and, when abandoned, they become homes for opossums and other small animals. The groundhog itself serves as food for larger creatures, such as bobcats, foxes, and wolves.

With hungry predators on the prowl, it takes courage for a groundhog to emerge from its hole every February to make its forecast. It must take its job very seriously!

Photo by Brain E. Kushner/ShutterStock

What’s the Difference Between a Groundhog and a Woodchuck?

Every year, we’re asked if a groundhog is the same thing as a woodchuck. Yep. There’s no difference (taxonomicaly). It’s the same borrowing rodent, Marmota monax. The word you use is more of a reflection of where you live. In cold New England, where we can pretty much count on wintry weather no matter what the marmot thinks, the term “woodchuck” is often used. The word comes from a Native American word. The animal’s Algonquin name is wejack or wuchak. What do you call it?

What’s the Weather Forecast?

For a forecast that’s more than folklore, see the Almanac’s long-range predictions (traditionally 80% accurate) or your 5-day weather forecast!

The First Groundhog Day: February 2, 1887 and the beginning of the Punxsutawney Phil traditions

On this day in 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The legend of Punxsutawney Phil is born.

According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather no shadow means an early spring.

The groundhog tradition stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe, and for centuries the custom was to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people.

These candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal–the hedgehog–as a means of predicting weather.

Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.

The official 1887 tradition was birthed from a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, who declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog.

The line of groundhogs that have since been known as Phil might be America’s most famous groundhogs, but other towns across North America now have their own weather-predicting rodents, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck to Shubenacadie Sam in Canada.

In 1993, the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, popularized the usage of “Groundhog Day” to mean something that is repeated over and over as Murrray’s character relived the event at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney over and over again.

Today, tens of thousands of people converge on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney each February 2 to witness Phil’s prediction.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club hosts a three-day celebration featuring entertainment and activities.

About the Author

Butter Bracco - Roxanne "Butter" Bracco began with the Dispatch as Pittsburgh Correspondent, but will be providing reports and insights from Washington DC, Maryland and the surrounding region. Contact Roxie aka "Butter" at [email protected] ATTN: Roxie or Butter Bracco

This Day in History: Feb 2, 1887: First Groundhog Day

On this day in 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather no shadow means an early spring.

Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal--the hedgehog--as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.

Groundhogs, also called woodchucks and whose scientific name is Marmota monax, typically weigh 12 to 15 pounds and live six to eight years. They eat vegetables and fruits, whistle when they're frightened or looking for a mate and can climb trees and swim. They go into hibernation in the late fall during this time, their body temperatures drop significantly, their heartbeats slow from 80 to five beats per minute and they can lose 30 percent of their body fat. In February, male groundhogs emerge from their burrows to look for a mate (not to predict the weather) before going underground again. They come out of hibernation for good in March.

In 1887, a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America's only true weather-forecasting groundhog. The line of groundhogs that have since been known as Phil might be America's most famous groundhogs, but other towns across North America now have their own weather-predicting rodents, from Birmingham Bill to Staten Island Chuck to Shubenacadie Sam in Canada.

In 1993, the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray popularized the usage of "groundhog day" to mean something that is repeated over and over. Today, tens of thousands of people converge on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney each February 2 to witness Phil's prediction. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club hosts a three-day celebration featuring entertainment and activities.

Groundhog Day is on February 2 and we wait with bated (and ice-cold) breath to see whether or not winter will continue for another six weeks. Although this holiday is derived from a Dutch superstition, the movie ‘Groundhog Day’ starring Bill Murray is also closely linked to this holiday.

The Pennsylvania Dutch were German-speaking immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. They developed their own take on the legend of Candlemas in the 18 th and 19 th centuries bringing with them the custom of the native Groundhog as their annual weather announcer. Candlemas involved the clergy blessing and distributing candles needed for winter. The Pennsylvania Dutch transformed the idea by selecting an animal to predict their needs for winter.

The first-ever Groundhog Day was created by a local newspaper editor Clymer Freas around 1886, who convinced Groundhog hunter and local businessman, and all members of his Punxsutawney Groundhog club on the idea of Groundhog Day. Together, they all made their way to Gobbler’s Knob where the Groundhog would make the final decision on the weather. Today, a group called the inner circle who wear top hats, conduct the official proceedings on February 2 in a Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, where tens of thousands of people attend the day’s events every year.

Studies have proven no strong correlation between a Groundhog spotting its own shadow and the arrival of spring subsequently. According to German lore, the badger known as Dachs is their forecasting animal. A separate version of traditions states that clear weather on the holy Christian day of Candlemas would often prohibit winter being prolonged.

Groundhog lore suggests much about Punxsutawney Phil. It is said that he drinks a magic ‘‘elixir of life’’ every summer, giving him seven more years to live. He has been predicting since around 1886, and a badger’s life span is around six years roughly, so go figure. There is also supposedly only one Phil and any other groundhogs who attempt to do what he does, are imposters. He is said to speak to the club president on the day, in front of the crowds in Groundhogese which is understood and then translated.

When Was The First Groundhog Day?

Groundhog Day was first celebrated in 1887, when a newspaper editor (and member of the local groundhog club) from Punxsutawney, Philadelphia, selected a local groundhog, Phil, to be the town’s resident rodent forecaster. This tradition quickly grew into an annual event that still takes place in the Pennsylvania city on February 2 every year, where thousands of people now gather at dawn to see ‘Punxsutawney Phil’ predict the weather.

Watch the video: Why Groundhogs Supposedly Predict The Weather On Groundhog Day (January 2023).

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