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Groundhog Day or Ground-Hog Day, ground-hog's day, etc., (Pennsylvania German: Grund'sau dåk, Grundsaudaag, Grundsow Dawg, Murmeltiertag; Nova Scotia: Daks Day) is a popular tradition celebrated in the United States and Canada on February 2.
It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog (Deitsch: Grundsau, Grunddax, Dax) emerging from its burrow on this day sees a shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks, and if he does not, due to cloudiness, spring season will arrive early.
The weather lore was brought from German-speaking areas where the badger (German: dachs) is the forecasting animal. This appears to be an enhanced version of the lore that clear weather on Candlemas forebodes a prolonged winter.
The Groundhog Day ceremony held at Punxsutawney in central Pennsylvania has become the most attended. Grundsow Lodges in Pennsylvania Dutch Country in the southeast part of the state celebrate them as well. Other cities in the United States and Canada have also adopted the event.
The 1993 movie (Groundhog Day) helped boost recognition of the custom, and the celebration has spread even further afield. In 2009, Quebec began to mark the day (Canadian French: Jour de la Marmotte) with its own groundhog.
The observance of Groundhog Day in the United States first occurred in German communities in Pennsylvania, according to known records.
The earliest mention of Groundhog Day is a February 2, 1840 entry in the diary of James L. Morris of Morgantown, Pennsylvania, in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, according to the book on the subject by Don Yoder. This was a Welsh enclave but the diarist was commenting on his neighbors who were of German stock.
The first reported news of a Groundhog Day observance was arguably made by the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1886:[c] "up to the time of going to press, the beast has not seen its shadow". However, it was not until the following year in 1887 that the first Groundhog Day considered "official" was commemorated here, with a group making a trip to the Gobbler's Knob part of town to consult the groundhog. People have gathered annually at the spot for the event ever since.
Clymer Freas (1867-1942)[d] who was city editor at the Punxsutawney Spirit is credited as the "father" who conceived the idea of "Groundhog Day".[e] It has also been suggested that Punxsutawney was where all the Groundhog Day events originated, from where it spread to other parts of the United States and Canada.
The Groundhog Day celebrations of the 1880s were carried out by the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge. The lodge members were the "genesis" of the Groundhog Club formed later, which continued the Groundhog Day tradition. But the lodge started out being interested in the groundhog as a game animal for food. It had started to serve groundhog at the lodge, and had been organizing a hunting party on a day each year in late summer.
The chronologies given are somewhat inconsistent in the literature. The first "Groundhog Picnic" was held in 1887 according to a book for popular reading by an academic, but given as post-circa-1889 by a local historian in a journal. The historian states that around 1889 the meat was served in the lodge's banquet, and the organized hunt started after that.
Either way, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club was formed in 1899, and continued the hunt and "Groundhog Feast", which took place annually in September. The "hunt" portion of it became increasingly a ritualized formality, because the practical procurement of meat had to occur well ahead of time for marinating. A drink called the “groundhog punch” was also served.[f] The flavor has been described as a "cross between pork and chicken". The hunt and feast did not attract enough outside interest, and the practice discontinued.
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 gather each year (nearly eight times the year-round population of the town). The average draw had been about 2,000 until the year after the movie screened in 1993, after which attendance rose to about 10,000. The official Phil is pretended to be a supercentenarian, having been the same forecasting beast since 1887.
The Slumbering Groundhog Lodge (formed 1907) has carried out the ceremonies that take place in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. It used to be a contending rival to Punxsutawney over the Groundhog Day fame. It employs a taxidermic specimen (stuffed woodchuck).
In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g'spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl in the center of the table.
Staten Island Chuck is the official weather-forecasting woodchuck for New York City.
In the American South, the General Beauregard Lee of Lilburn, Georgia is known to have the most accurate prediction, standing at 94%. The University of Dallas in Irving, Texas has boasted of hosting the second largest Groundhog celebration in the world.
The day is observed with various ceremonies at other locations in North America beyond the United States, including Wiarton Willie of Wiarton, Ontario, Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia. "Daks Day" (from the German dachs) is Groundhog Day in the dialect of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
In French Canada, Fred la marmotte of Val-d'Espoir is the representative forecaster for all of Quebec province since 2009. A study also shows that in Quebec, Canada, the marmot or groundhog (siffleux) are regarded as Candlemas weather-predicting beasts in some scattered spots, but the bear is the more usual animal.[g]
In 2017 Groundhog Day was scheduled to be observed at zoos in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Samara, Russia.
The Pennsylvania Dutch were immigrants from German-speaking areas of Europe. The Germans already had a tradition of marking Candlemas (February 2) as "Badger Day" (Dachstag), where if a badger emerging found it to be a sunny day thereby casting a shadow, it foreboded the prolonging of winter by 4 more weeks.
The Candlemas was a Catholic festival officially eliminated by the Protestant Reformists, but it had been retained and continued to be celebrated by the folk.
The weather-predicting animal on Candlemas was usually the badger, although regionally the animal was the bear or the fox. The original weather-predicting animal in Germany had been the bear, another hibernating mammal, but when they grew scarce the lore became altered.
Similarity to the groundhog lore has been noted for the German formula "Sonnt sich der Dachs in der Lichtmeßwoche, so geht er auf vier Wochen wieder zu Loche" (If the badger sunbathes during Candlemas-week, for four more weeks he will be back in his hole).[h] A slight variant is found in a collection of weather lore (bauernregeln, lit. "farmers' rules") printed in Austria in 1823.
Groundhog as badger
So the same tradition as the Germans, except that winter's spell would be prolonged for 6 weeks instead of 4, was maintained by the Pennsylvanians on Groundhog Day. In Germany, the animal was dachs or badger. For the Pennsylvania Dutch, it became the dox which in Deitsch referred to "groundhog".[i]
The standard term for "groundhog" was grun′daks (from German dachs), with the regional variant in York County being grundsau, a direct translation of the English name, according to a 19th-century book on the ialect. The form was a regional variant of according to one 19th century source, However, the weather superstition that begins "Der zwet Hær′ning is Grund′sau dåk. Wânn di grundau îr schâtte sent.. ("February second is Groundhog day. If the groundhog sees its shadow..)" is given as common to all 14 counties in Dutch Pennsylvania Country, in a 1915 monograph. The form grundsow has been used by the lodge in Allentown and elsewhere.
The groundhog was once also known by the obsolete Latin alias Arctomys monax. The genus name signified "bear-rat". The European marmot is of the same genus and was formerly called Arctomys alpinus. It was speculated that the European counterpart might have lore similar to the groundhog attached to it.[k]
Simpler Candlemas lore
The German version, with the introduction of the badger (or other beasts) was an expansion on a more simple tradition that if the weather was sunny and clear on Candlemas Day people expected winter to continue. The simpler version is summarized in the English (Scots dialect) couplet that runs "If Candlemas is fair and clear / There'll be twa winters in the year",[l][m] with equivalent phrases in French and German. And the existence of a corresponding Latin couplet has been suggested as evidence of the great antiquity of this tradition.[n]
In fact, the Christian Candlemas itself was an assimilation of the Roman rite for the goddess Februa with a procession on February 2, to honor her, according to Yoder. The Roman calendar, in turn, had Celtic origins. Candlemas concurs with Imbolc, one of the Celtic ‘cross-quarter days’, the four days which marked the midpoints between solstice and equinox.
Scholar Rhys Carpenter in 1946 emphasized that the Badger Day tradition was strong in Germany, but absent in the British Isles (England, Scotland, or Ireland), and he referred to this as a reason that the U.S. Groundhog Day was not brought by immigrants from these places.
There did exist a belief among Roman Catholics in Britain that the hedgehog predicted the length of winter, or so it has been claimed, but without demonstration of its age, in a publication by the Scotland-born American journalist Thomas C. MacMillan in 1886, and American writer/journalist Samuel Adams Drake's book published in 1900.[o]
There are also claims of Irish lore that the hedgehog emerging out of hibernation on Brigid's Day (February 1) is a predictor of weather, and a few Celtic scholars advocate this modern Christian Irish lore to be the source of the Groundhog Day tradition in the United States.
In Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil has created a name for himself on this widely popular tradition. On February 2nd, people within the city will gather to find out whether or not Phil’s shadow is revealed. With that, he will allegedly determine whether spring will soon begin by not seeing his shadow, or if winter will ensue for six more weeks.
Punxsutawney Phil's statistics are kept by the Pennsylvania’s Groundhog Club which cares for the animal. Phil has predicted 103 forecasts for winter and just 17 for an early spring. As it turns out, Phil’s predictions have been recorded as only 39% accurate according to Stormfax Alamanac’s data. It seems as though referring to the city’s official weather services to determine the seasonal changes may be more reliable. Other poor results from analysis are reported by the Farmer's Almanac as "exactly 50 percent" accuracy, and The National Geographic Society reporting only 28% success. But a Middlebury College team found that a long-term analysis of temperature high/low predictions were 70% accurate, although when the groundhog predicted early spring it was usually wrong.
Prediction based on an animal’s behavior, which may seem ridiculous nowadays, used to be given more credence in the past when stores of food became scarce as winter progressed.
One theory states that the groundhog naturally comes out of hibernation in central Pennsylvania in early February because of the increasing average temperature. Under this theory, if German settlement had been centered further north, Groundhog Day would take place at a later date. However, the observed behavior of groundhogs in central New Jersey was that they mostly come out of their burrows in mid-March, regardless of Groundhog Day weather.
Characteristics of groundhog
Groundhogs are creatures within the rodent family that weigh between 12 and 15 pounds and can live up to 8 years. These animals are omnivores, but commonly feast on grass, vegetables, and fruit. Surprisingly, groundhogs have the ability to climb up trees, and much like beavers, swim. Each fall, Groundhogs go into hibernation until March, where they will make their official debut back above ground. When the animals emerge from hibernation, their initial purpose is to find a mate, but as society has popularized the Groundhog Day tradition, they also predict the changing of seasons.
In Croatia and Serbia, Orthodox Christians have a tradition that on 2 February (Candlemas) or 15 February (Sretenje, The Meeting of the Lord), the bear will awaken from winter dormancy, and if it sees (meets) its own shadow in this sleepy and confused state, it will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging the winter. Thus, if it is sunny on Sretenje, it is a sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that the winter is about to end.
Similarly in Germany, on the 27th of June, they recognize the Seven Sleepers' Day (Siebenschläfertag). If it rains that day, the rest of summer is supposedly going to be rainy. As well, in the United Kingdom, the 15th of July is known as St. Swithun's day. This was traditionally believed that, if it rained on that day, it would rain for the next 40 days and nights.