Groundhog Day can be traced back to Candlemas Day, which was celebrated by early European Christians on February 2nd when clergy members blessed and handed out candles. Since February is right in the middle of the winter solstice and the spring equinox, the weather that day was of great importance. If the sun were shining, winter would continue, but if the day brought clouds and rain, winter was over. The Germans added their own twist to Candlemas Day when they used a hedgehog. As they settled in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, the migrating Germans brought their Candlemas tradition with them. The only problem was a lack of hedgehogs. Undetterred, they improvised with groundhogs.The first official Groundhog Day was celebrated on February 2, 1886 when Punxsutawney townsfolk gathered together for a groundhog hunt. Even the local newspaper proclaimed it Groundhog Day and reported that the animal had not seen its shadow. The following year, The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club gathered at Gobbler’s Knob, where they still meet today, and christened Punxsutawney ‘the weather capitol of the world’. The group also officially named their soon to be famous groundhog: “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”.
Punxsutawney folklore claims that there has never been more than one official weather-forecasting groundhog. Unlike most groundhogs who live a mere six to eight years, Punxsutawney Phil is over 120. He stays fit by sipping Groundhog Punch, which adds seven years to his life every time he swigs it. When he’s not predicting weather, Phil and his wife, Phyllis, live in a climate controlled area known as The Groundhog Zoo, which is conveniently connected to the Punxsutawney Library. The couple is cared for by the Inner Circle—those fellows who crowd around Phil wearing top hats and tuxedos as he looks for his shadow. Once Phil decides if spring will come early or not, he announces his prediction to the Club President in Groundhogese. In turn, the president translates Phil’s words to the rest of the world.Sometimes, Phil dishes about more than just the weather. During Prohibition, he demanded a drink and in 1981, he donned a yellow ribbon to remind everyone of the American hostages in Iran. In 1993, Phil was immortalized over and over in the hit movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.
With his flair for predicting the weather, Punxsutawney Phil and his celebrated shadow will continue their annual tradition at Gobbler’s Knob—unless the Groundhog Punch runs out.