groundhog fay

Exploring the secrets of Groundhog Day

Published on January 31, 2022

Groundhog Day is one of many traditions that have their origins in ancient rituals. Back then, civilizations took season predictions very seriously because of the impact on farming. 

The origins of Groundhog Day reach back to centuries ago, and far across the Atlantic Ocean. February 2nd has been a significant day for ancient and modern cultures alike, beginning with the Celts of Europe, who celebrated a festival called Imbolc, which marked the beginning of spring.

On February 2 Catholicism and some Lutheran traditions celebrate Candlemas: a feast remembering the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Germans had a tradition of a badger casting a shadow on this particular day. If the badger cast a shadow it predicted four more weeks of winter. German immigrants known as the Pennsylvania Dutch brought the custom with them during the 18th and 19th centuries. Here the Germans readily gave new meaning to a charming American native animal – the groundhog. This is the tradition as we know it: if the day is sunny and the animal sees its shadow, six more weeks of winter weather remain.

groundhog day

The secrets of the marmot

Officially, the first celebration of Groundhog Day in the United States took place on February 2nd, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Currently when celebrating this holiday,  some people wear top hats and speak Pennsylvania Dutch, in homage to the German immigrants. It is said that they communicate with the groundhogs in “Groundhogese” and pull Phil (their official mascot) out of his burrow to judge if he sees his shadow.

That same town was the setting for the 1993 cult classic, Groundhog Day. As a kind of punishment for belittling village tradition, television meteorologist Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is sentenced to relive Groundhog Day over and over. Due to the popularity of the film, and of Bill Murray, the annual Punxsutawney celebration became very famous.  Following the success of the movie, attendance at the ceremony increased from approximately 2,000 to 10,000.

groundhog day

Where to observe

If you’re in northern Illinois  during Groundhog Day make a stop in Woodstock, Illinois where the movie was filmed.  Each year, they host a weekend long festival of activities, including showing the classic film at the Woodstock Theater. Or, if you’re in the city, Paramount Theatre is presenting Groundhog Day: The Musical, based on this comedy classic. Opening Night is Friday, February 4, at 8 p.m. Performances run through Sunday, March 13. Single tickets, $36-$79, are on sale now. 

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