Friday is Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil will venture out of his burrow at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to legend, if the rodent sees his shadow, that means there are six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, then springtime will come early.
Here are some things to know about this quirky celebration:
First celebration: The first Groundhog Day was celebrated at Gobbler’s Knob on Feb. 2, 1887. According to History.com, the idea came from Clymer Freas, a newspaper editor in Punxsutawney, who belonged to a group of groundhog hunters. His newspaper, The Punxsutawney Spirit, is credited with printing the news of the first observance in 1886, according to the website of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.
Origins: The day was originally known as Candlemas Day, which was the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was celebrated in Europe, with Germans adopting a hedgehog to determine whether the rest of the winter would be bitter or mild. German settlers who came to Pennsylvania in the 18th century continued the tradition, substituting a groundhog.
What about Phil? According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s website, Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds and is 22 inches long. The club also notes that there has been only one Phil, crediting his longevity to drinking a secret “groundhog punch” every summer at the Groundhog Picnic. The brew adds seven years to Phil’s life every summer, according to legend.
How accurate is Phil? According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Phil has seen his shadow 103 times since 1887, and did not see his shadow 18 times. The other years have not been accounted for, the club said.
Other predictors: What other rodents predict the weather on Feb. 2? There is General Beauregard Lee in Jackson, Georgia; Birmingham Bill, who prognosticates from the Birmingham Zoo in Alabama; and Staten Island Chuck in the New York metropolitan area. Not to be outdone, Canada has its own rodent, Shubenacadie Sam, who emerges from his burrow in Nova Scotia.
No respect: Was Groundhog Day always a big deal? Apparently not. The Feb. 6, 1879, edition of the Altoona Tribune notes that when “one of those weather prophets” ventured out to see his shadow that year, a woman mistook the animal for a rabbit and sent the family dog after it. After the canine caught the groundhog and killed it, the woman “had it dressed and baked in the most approved fashion,” declaring it “the most delicious dinner she had ever sat down to.”
Punxsutawney Phil is treated in a much kinder fashion these days.