Groundhog Day. It’s early in February, and if you grew up in North America you probably vaguely remember being told that winter would be longer or shorter any given year because some groundhog saw its shadow, or something. It has probably never really made sense–which is probably why you’re wondering why we have Groundhog Day.
Further Reading: Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Facts
No, it’s not the same as Christmas, but it does still fall under the banner of Christian holidays. Conveniently, it also falls on the same day as Groundhog Day. It is primarily Cathoic though, but one of its longer names is The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Which we really just included because “of the” is used twice. Candlemas is meant to commemorate the Virgin Mary presenting Jesus as her firstborn.
The Biblical ins and outs of Candlemas are not too important to Groundhog Day. What is important is that Candlemas was supposed to predict the weather–specifically how the rest of winter would go and how spring would start. It doesn’t seem to have to have started with an animal, though–older nursery rhymes echo that if the weather on Candlemas were bright, people were in for a longer winter.
But here’s the thing. The Germans marked Candlemas as “Badger Day” in the Medieval period. Guess what, Badger Day was about a badger sticking their head out of a hole–when there’s snow the badger is supposed to be chill and walk about in it. But should the badger see the sun shine, it will retreat. Other variants of Badger Day included the marmot in France or the hedgehog in England.
Marmot Day, by the way, is celebrated in Alaska. They passed a bill through their State Senate in 2009 to change Groundhog Day to Marmot Day. It’s the same, but the other 49 states still do Groundhog Day.
The Pennsylvania Dutch
At some point during the 18th century, German speaking immigrants made their way to the state of Pennsylvania. While some of them did hail from modern day Germany, some came from the Netherlands and Switzerland. They called themselves deitsch (as in deutsch for German). The gigantic game of telephone called history gives us “dutch” nowadays.
The Pennsylvania Dutch brought Badger Day with them–but they ended up changing over to the Groundhog. Mostly because Pennsylvania didn’t have any badgers. After picking their new animal of choice to be their new meteorologist, Pennsylvania celebrated its first Groundhog Day in 1840. At least that was the first time it was written down, anyway. It took place in Morgantown, which in fiction has been described before as the “most boring and monotonous town in the entire United States.” That bit was from a movie called Master of the World and has nothing to do with Groundhog Day. We just thought it was funny.
If you look into Groundhog Day, you’re bound to pick up references to a little guy named Punxsutawney Phil–considered one of the most (if not the most) famous citizens of Pennsylvania. Groundhog Day was publicized by a newspaper out of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1886, and it has been said that this newspaper (aptly named the Punxsutawney Spirit) is where the idea of Groundhog Day originated.
Just by the way, Punxsutawney Phil has a less than 40% accuracy rating.
Other states have their own groundhogs. Georgia has General Beauregard Lee, who has not one but two honorary doctorates. Which might be upsetting to those who have no doctorates. But maybe the fact that General Beauregard Lee has a 60% accuracy rating.
Speaking of Groundhog Day, see if you know everything about the movie here.