Self-Fulphil ling Prophecy

With Groundhog Day upon us, learn about the history, trivia, and tradition of every Pennsylvanian’s favorite holiday.


Gobblers Knob - Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania by Doug Kerr from Albany, NY, United States is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The small town of Punxsutawney, PA looms large each year on February 2nd, as its most famous resident emerges from hibernation to wield his predictive powers.

Brady Crow, Staff Writer

Each year, on the morning of February 2nd, a celebrity groundhog named Phil emerges from his cozy burrow in Punxsutawney, PA to an eruption of applause from adoring fans.  Crawling around inquisitively under the watchful eyes of his dapper caretakers, Phil hunts for his shadow.  Legend has it that if Phil sees his shadow, winter will continue for six more weeks.  If he doesn’t, spring is said to be on its way.  This is Groundhog Day, the celebration that brings people of all ages and cultures together to celebrate a quadruped’s prediction for the coming weather.

What in the world could spur on such an obscure tradition?  No religion is associated with Groundhog Day, so where does it come from?

The first Groundhog Day occurred all the way back in 1887.  The citizens of Punxsutawney gathered around Gobbler’s Knob to see if Phil would find his shadow.  Groundhog Day is a unique holiday to say the least, though it does share some slight similarities to holidays of a bygone age.  For example, the idea of predicting a longer winter has been observed since the ancient Christian tradition of “Candlemas,” where the duration of a candle’s flame represents the longevity of winter.  

Eventually, Germans created their own take on the Candlemas celebration, using a hedgehog to predict the weather in a similar fashion to modern-day Phil. Badgers and bears were also used to forecast, but due to their aggressive nature, the Germans most likely switched to the more docile hedgehog.  To continue the tradition after immigration to Pennsylvania, the Germans chose to substitute the rare hedgehog for the plentiful groundhog. And thus, Groundhog Day was born.

Groundhog Day’s origins are humble but evolved into a beloved holiday worldwide, partially due to the success of the movie, Groundhog Day, where a narcissistic weatherman must relive Groundhog Day endlessly, realizing the error of his ways.  The Bill Murray comedy gained instant popularity after its 1993 debut, becoming as popular as the celebration itself.  With a fantastic movie and a one-of-a-kind premise, Groundhog Day cemented itself as a quirky and fun holiday for all. 

NBC News Livestream

Groundhog Day, at its core, is a celebration of changing seasons,  community, tradition, and nature.  And, while everyone is welcome to celebrate, the day ultimately belongs to the one and only plump rodent, Punxsutawney Phil. 

Phil, the mascot and lead figure of Groundhog Day, is over 125 years old.  Thanks to some magic punch he drinks during his summer rest, Phil is able to live longer than the average three-year old groundhog. Phil surrounds himself with an exclusive 15-member inner circle.  Dressed in dapper top hats and suits with tails, they are set in charge of Phil’s care and well-being.  

In addition to his inner circle, Phil also finds company in his groundhog wife, Phyllis.  Groundhogs are surprisingly romantic animals.  Male groundhogs sacrifice months of rest to seek out the perfect lifelong mate.  To attract a companion, groundhogs actually whistle at each other. Apparently, such behavior is not yet taboo in the rodent world.

Ordinarily, groundhogs spend the majority of their lives in elaborately constructed tunnels and burrows.  However, a dirt tunnel is not fit for a groundhog of such high esteem as Phil.  For most of the year, Phil rests in the public library, where he can watch over the citizens of Punxsutawney. Despite spending most of his year in the town library, Phil has been known to travel.  Phil has seen many celebrities in his long life, including president Ronald Reagan, and television personality Oprah Winfrey.  While a groundhog may seem a bit lowly for a president or celebrity, Phil is in fact royalty.  Dubbed “King Phillip,” he is a monarch of high regard.

Whether we have six more weeks of winter or an early spring, Phil is always correct, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.  As the club contends, King Phillip has never predicted the weather incorrectly — instead, his messages have sometimes been misinterpreted.  After all, he speaks the mysterious language of “groundhogese.”

Groundhog Day may not be as famous as Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, or modern “Hallmark” holidays, but it’s certainly just as fun.  As a smaller celebration, Groundhog Day is not plagued by commercialism like many large holidays.  The festivities only last a few hours as well, meaning the day is not only entertaining–it’s also convenient.

A good holiday doesn’t always include presents, huge feasts, or fun games.  Sometimes, a fun day to celebrate may just be as simple as watching a fuzzy friend look for his shadow.

And for what it’s worth, this very morning at Gobbler’s Knob, Phil saw what we had all hoped he would not see.  Brace yourselves for six more weeks of winter.