The History of Groundhog Day

Legend has it that if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on February 2, there will be six more weeks of winter. Curious about the history behind this long-standing tradition? Read on for the interesting origins and fun facts about Groundhog Day.

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Groundhog Day Basics

According to legend, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on February 2, he will leave the burrow -- signaling that cold winter weather will soon end, bringing an early spring. If it is sunny and the groundhog sees its shadow, he will return to his burrow and winter will last for approximately six more weeks.

See more about the origin of the Groundhog Day legend and some fun facts about Punxsutawney Phil, below.

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Groundhog Day Origins

The holiday is rooted in German superstition surrounding the tradition of Candlemas Day, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. When German settlers arrived in Pennsylvania in the 18th century, they brought the tradition of Candlemas with them. The tradition is celebrated on February 2, and according to an old English song:

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

Fun Facts About Groundhog Day

  • The first official Groundhog Day was celebrated in 1887 at Gobbler's Knob, 2 miles outside of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
  • The name Punxsutawney comes from the Delaware Indians who settled the area in 1723 and their word "ponksad-uteney," which means "town of the sand flies"
  • Crowds as large as 40,000 people have traveled to Gobbler's Knob to watch Phil make his prediction.
  • When he's not predicting the weather on Groundhog Day, Phil lives in the town library in Punxsutawney with his "wife," Phyllis.
  • Punxsutawney Phil has only predicted an early spring 16 times.
  • According to the National Climatic Data Center, Phil's weather predictions have been correct 39 percent of the time.
  • The average life span of groundhogs is only 10 years -- but fans say that there has been only one Punxsutawney Phil, who is kept alive with a special "groundhog elixir" given to him every summer that lengthens his life for seven more years.
  • Other weather prognosticating groundhogs include Staten Island Chuck (Staten Island, New York City), Sir Walter Wally (Raleigh, North Carolina), General Beauregard Lee (Lilburn, Georgia), and Jimmy the Groundhog (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin).
  • Texas started its own tradition in 2010 and uses its state mammal, an armadillo, to predict the weather for Armadillo Day. The armadillo, named Bee Cave Bob, makes his own weather prediction at the West Pole in Bee Cave, Texas.
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