Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony today, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil rose from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, and signaled to his handlers that he saw no shadow today and accordingly foretold an early end to winter. Over the 125 years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and not seen it only 16, counting today. (Records don’t exist for every year.) The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as they no doubt would have today, when a smaller than usual crowd stood in the freezing rain to watch the ceremony.

The same article also notes that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

How did the groundhog tradition get started?

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festival, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

– Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

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

– English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies, none is nearly as famous as Punsxutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Photos: Aaron Silvers, Creative Commons

Try it yourself: Do you see your shadow on Groundhog Day?

Read: Happy New Year! Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home.


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75 Responses to Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring

  1. I totally forgot it was G-Day! Thanks for the reminder…and the background. Fascinating! :)

  2. I am updating my netflix cue now, there goes an hour and a half of life i wont get back (and will be glad to waste), Bill Murray here i come!

  3. punxsutawney phil is a moron.

  4. I had a friend’s little girl wake up this morning and ask where the Ground Hog presents were. I thought that was just so precious!

    Blessings,

    Ava
    xox

  5. Pingback: Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring | Slow …

  6. EARLY SPRING! woo hoo, now i got to weather this damn blizzard

    http://enjoibeing.wordpress.com/

  7. Woohoo! And dontcha love that movie with Bill Murray … a classic. Thanks!

  8. Happy Groundhog Day, everyone! Thanks for visiting.

    Mikalee, I’m glad this was a timely reminder. I love all the lore behind the day, too. It makes complete sense that superstition and ritual would arise to explain weather and seasons, and to assure people of the end of winter — one way or another.

    Jared, enjoy the movie. It is literally one of my all-time favorites. I can watch it (and have), well, again and again!

    Halimam, thanks for the link. Unfortunately my French is not good enough to read the piece.

    dearex, Are you snowed in? That would explain your hostility to the weather-predicting woodland creature.

    Ava, Groundhog presents! I love it. And why not? I guess they’d have to be buried??

  9. As someone who is suffering through a terrible blizzard right now, I have to wonder if his handlers chose to have an early end to winter in fear of half of the country coming to PN in an angry rage. I think it was best that he predicted an early spring- other wise, we may no longer have a groundhog with all 4 legs. Ha!

  10. Pingback: 闲来话话 » Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring

  11. Thanks for your comments and general Groundhog love, Jeffrey, Countryman’s Wife, and Halfway to 50! I’m really enjoying reading all your blogs and seeing what everyone’s up to and thinking about.

    Enjoy the news of early spring .. and my favorite movie.

    I agree, Halfway. I think the handlers (uh, the groundhog) knew that this winter, it was best to predict that spring is just around the corner.

  12. Even though it’s just folklore, I really hope the marmot is right this time. I’m ready for Spring!

  13. I FINALLY understand the “science” behind Groundhog Day! (and I’m from Pa!!)

    Thank you Slow Family! I can boast to all I meet around town today!

  14. I’m in PA and I’m hoping Phil’s prediction is right, I can’t take much more snow/ice! Great post :)

  15. Thanks for sharing the background information. I’ve always enjoyed the ritual of Ground Hog’s Day–enjoyed its quirkiness. But the ritual gains a little meaning when I realize it has a significant history.

  16. Damn, so much written and all in vain. Difference of light was, the computer shuts down.
    Well, later as a write.

  17. Even though I am dubious about the talents of a groundhog to predict the weather patterns (however cute creatures they are…lol- or any other animal for that matter- in my parents neck of the woods cats and frogs seem particularly talented in this…)- I had no idea of the history of the groundhog day tradition- what an interesting read!

  18. Thanks for the info!! I hope Spring really comes soon :)

  19. I don’t know if anyone knows this but shadows…. are caused by objects blocking a light source. So wouldn’t it come to reason that if the groundhog were to exit his burrow while the day was cloudy, he would not see his shadow? If he were to exit while the sun was unblocked by clouds or whatnot, then he would see his shadow? I’m betting we could control the coming of spring simply by building a roof over his little home :D Just sayin!

    Oh and my Groundhog day tradition is to watch Groundhog Day on Groundhog day. I know it’s stupid but I really do enjoy that movie. The question on my mind is, “Does Phil… feel lucky?”

  20. So Happy!!! I love your blog. Thank you. :-)
    http://www.countoncross.com

  21. Pingback: La marmota predice una primavera adelantada |

  22. Interesting information. Never really thought much of the history behind this tradition. Although I’m sure most people across the U.S. is hoping the groundhog’s prediction is correct.

  23. you actualy have groundhog day or is it just a film i thought it was just film made up

  24. I am so happy to have Spring here soon! :-)
    http://www.hcrproducts.com

  25. Glad to hear Phil predicts an early spring. I can’t wait for it to come, especially after all the snow we had yesterday. Thank you for explaining the roots of this tradition.

  26. I really enjoyed your piece on Ground Hog day! Early Spring Woo Hoo!!!

  27. Pingback: Who says Groundhog Day is a corny holiday? « SavingCymbria

  28. So pleased about Phil! Our Staten Island Chuck came to the same conclusion today. Great work Suz.

  29. More of a question than a comment. Can I ask you how to allow advertisement on my blog as well as a list of people on my site just like your? Thanks- sorry its off topic. Please take time to email back I really appreciate it. susanlynn26@yahoo.com. Thanks and God bless-Fashion Editor Su Also is there a way to add your blog and other blogs for people to contact directly on my blog?

  30. Great blog idea! We all need to slooow doooown (slow mo is so much less dignified in print lol). And for-the-love-of-Pete (or in this case Phil) let’s all hope the rodent is right!

  31. Pingback: Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring (via Slow Family Online) « alterwomanwrites

  32. Wild animals know far more about weather than we do, so it’s a shame they can’t talk.
    Groundhog Day is a peculiar tradition, and a funny movie.

  33. Glad to know about Groundhog Day

  34. Pingback: Why people looking for Punxatawney Phil | News | 12 Eyes

  35. Interesting information. Never really thought much of the history behind this tradition. Although I’m sure most people across the U.S. is hoping the groundhog’s prediction is correct.Oh and my Groundhog day tradition is to watch Groundhog Day on Groundhog day. I know it’s stupid but I really do enjoy that movie. The question on my mind is, “Does Phil… feel lucky?”

  36. Thank you again, all, for visiting and for your comments!

    Sundrywonders, I think many are ready for spring and welcome this news! I like your blog and the fact that you also write “odes” to various vintage-inspired arts!

    Thanks, Lippy! You know I always like to know the science – and lore – behind the weather.

    Thanks, Dennis. Cheers to spring. I enjoyed reading your blog.

    Hi Michael, I’m glad I shed some “light” on the tradition of Groundhog Day.

    Dante, I’m sorry your work got lost. I hate that and yearn to know what you wrote. Perhaps you can come back and share.

  37. Hi Mixtape! I love learning about other animals predicting the weather. I linked to a story about that on my blog. It’s here.

    Lakia, Thanks for visiting. I’m with you. Welcome Spring!

    Gil, Groundhog Day is not a stupid movie! Along with honoring this hallowed day, it’s hilarious and deep. I’m jealous that you’re going to watch it right now. (The trick is to do so over and over ..)

    Hi Kari! Thanks for visiting and for your nice comment. I’m enjoying your blog. It’s full of useful information.

    Emily and Harry, happy to be of service and lend some info about this holiday. Yay for the coming Spring.

    And, yes, Kevin, Groundhog Day is real! Full of ceremony and history.

  38. I enjoyed reading your blog!

  39. Phil can come shovel snow out of my driveway up here in Massachusetts….

  40. I want more cold weather…here in FL at least. I’m not ready for the summer yet! :o)

  41. That Scottish saying….. eh? I aint ever heard that one bother.

    Alex, in Scotland

  42. Truly a great post on the background on this special day. Only wish in this part of Texas, we did not have ice and snow to spoil some of the plans of those coming to the Superbowl Sunday in the DFW area of Texas.

  43. I will take an early spring! Good and informative article!! Thanks for sharing. Blessings,

  44. I loved your blog post even before reading it! I had NO FLIPPING IDEA that you spell “Punxsutawney” like that!!!?!

  45. Pingback: All Cooped Up « Ditch the Umbrella

  46. Pingback: Groundhog Day – Spring Flowers – will they be early this year? | funflowerfacts

  47. I’m watching that movie now!

    I love it. It’s been on for about twenty minutes.
    And it’s comin on again!

  48. This si so childish, but I didn’t get past “Gobbler’s Knob” without having a fit of hysterics

  49. Ahhh…thank you for the information! I’m predicting a somewhat harsh hurricane season down here (seriously).

    Gee, maybe we need to designate a Sea Turtle on February 2nd? Just saying…

  50. Hopefully we do get an early spring. I’m sick of the snow.

  51. Pingback: Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring « My View From Las Vegas

  52. And tomorrow is also supposed to be the day that bears mark the end of winter with one great big ‘fart of dehibernation’ – see my entry on Groundhog Day – http://learnearnandreturn.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/groundhog-day/

  53. I guess it depends where you live;)we had a good winter here this year:D

  54. If we would go by our area the winter would last 6 more weeks.-9 c and sunny.

  55. This si so childish, but I didn’t get past “Gobbler’s Knob” without having a fit of hysterics ทัวร์จีนราคาถูก I loved your blog post even before reading it! I had NO FLIPPING IDEA that you spell “Punxsutawney
    ทัวร์จีน ปักกิ่ง
    Hopefully we do get an early spring. I’m sick of the snow.

  56. Oh my fair chubby groundhog – we are half way through the winter. Oh my what a winter this has been!

    GhDay the movie, what fun. The thought of living your day over and over again until you get it right is scary and practical all at once. Scary if I had to live this sub-below zero weather again. Practical so that I can get the details importantt o me right.

  57. woodstock willie

    enjoyed your article. love, phil’s cousin, woodstock willie, the real star of “groundhog day” writing to you from woodstock illinois the real film locale of “groundhog day”… enjoy your spring but i was blinded by all that damn snow we had last night and then the sun came out this morning and there i saw it. it sceered me back into my hole. my chicago friends are in for another 6 weeks of winter…

  58. This sounds kind of lame, but Groundhog day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I mean, what’s not to love about a groundhog predicting the weather? Plus, with the single-digits weather we’ve been having here lately, I love love love the hope of an early spring! Thank you Punxsutawney Phil!

    http://polkadotsock.wordpress.com

  59. I am curious how old Phil is. Does he have an heir to inherit the tradition?

  60. Pingback: The Weather, Punxsutawney Phil, and a little Recap « Trinity Chapel Blog

  61. I heart is heavy. How can so many people make fun of aminal cruelty?
    I bet any one here would say that they would not want to be a matador, but this is okay? Aminals are our friends. We co-exist with them in a shared world of interconnectivity.
    Why do we think that we can use woodland creatures for meteorological conjecture? Aminals deserve our love and respect. Not to be heralded as divining rods of snow.
    Let us search our hearts.
    I long for a time where groundhogs are not made to suffer exploitation at the hands of top hat throned seasonal prognosticators (even if well meaning).
    What’s next prairie dogs running obstacle courses to find out who will win the Super Bowl?
    Aminal Lover,
    Ryan McGivern

  62. At least Mr. Punxsutawney Phil is protected.

    The groundhogs in my area don’t have a chance.

  63. yaaaaaay… groundhog day here wasnt sunny at all – no shadows anywhere. :) so hopefully winter wont stay any longer here.
    funny we dont celebrate it here (germany) since ger settler have brought it to the usa. :)

  64. Thanks for sharing the links pointing to the history of Groundhog Day! I didn’t know the folklore had German roots. I too use to think that the celebration was for a weird reason – the Groundhog seeing its shadow should’ve been a good sign for Spring to arrive early, isn’t it – but your post cleared that misconception.

    I’m a ‘Groundhog Day’ movie fan myself (I watched it for the umpteenth time yesterday!), and I love the implied philosophy in it. They couldn’t have picked a better day (or folklore) to put the point across! :)

  65. I never knew that this was connected to a Pagan/Christian Holiday, that is kind of crazy. Thanks for the history!

  66. woodstock willie

    nearly all christian traditions arose from paganism…xmas corresponds to winter solstice or yuletide. burning of the yule log. many catholic saints were named after roman gods. mardi gras was also a mid winter festival pagans celebrated. the church encouraged mardi gras as a release before the heavy demands of lent.

  67. I don’t believe it. I think that there is going to be a blizzard in the southeast because the Farmers’ Almanac says so and they’re always right.

  68. That was a really interesting article, thank you for posting it.

  69. I didn’t realise they actually did this, I thought it was just in the movie!

  70. Thanks again for all your great comments! This holiday clearly stirs people’s imaginations and interest. I love that some learned that the movie “Groundhog Day” is based on real events. And I love that the Dude breaks out in giggles at the mere mention of Gobbler’s Knob, that this is Liz’s favorite holiday, and that weather, seasons and silly traditions are still quite captivating in our modern world. I’m so glad this post got many of you to visit and let me know of your wonderful blogs and ideas. I hope to connect again.

  71. Glad to hear Phil predicts an early spring. I can’t wait for it to come, especially after all the snow we had yesterday. Thank you for explaining the roots of this tradition.

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