The origins of Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil

The spotlight will be on Gobbler’s Knob in western Pennsylvania early Friday morning, when handlers of a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil will announce whether he saw his own shadow and predicts six more weeks of winter or an early spring.

Thousands are expected to attend the annual event that exploded in popularity after the 1993 Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day.”

It’s part of a tradition rooted in European agricultural life, marking the midpoint between the shortest day of the year on the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s also a time of year that figures in the Celtic calendar and the Christian holiday of Candlemas.

And in eastern and central Pennsylvania, where people of German descent have been watching the groundhog’s annual emergence from hibernation for centuries, there’s a tradition of groundhog clubs and celebrations that are independent of Phil.

FILE – Groundhog Club handler A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 137th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Feb. 2, 2023. The arrival of annual Groundhog Day celebrations Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, will draw thousands of people to see celebrity woodchuck Phil at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. — an event that exploded in popularity after the 1993 Bill Murray movie. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger, File)

Some dismiss the Punxsutawney event as an unworthy rival to their own festivities, which they say forecast more accurate weather predictions. There have been weather-predicting groundhogs in at least 28 U.S. states and Canadian provinces, and less formal celebrations far and wide.

One thing it’s not: serious business.

“We know this is silly; we know this is fun,” said Marcy Galando, executive director of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. “We want people to come here with a sense of humor.”

  • February 1, 2024
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