Groundhog Day (Canadian French: Jour de la Marmotte; Pennsylvania German: Grundsaudaag, Murmeltiertag) is a day celebrated on February 2. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will persist for six more weeks.
Modern customs of the holiday involve celebrations where early morning festivals are held to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow.
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.
The celebration, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog. It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc (the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and also involves weather prognostication) and to St. Swithun's Day in July 15.
The first documented American reference to Groundhog Day can be found in a diary entry, dated February 4, 1841, of Morgantown, Pennsylvania, storekeeper James Morris:
Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.
In Scotland, the poem:
If Candle-mas Day is bright and clear, There'll be two winters in the year.
An English poem:
If Candle mas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.
Alternative origin theories
In western countries in the Northern Hemisphere, the official first day of spring is almost seven weeks (46–48 days) after Groundhog Day, on March 20 or March 21. The custom could have been a folk embodiment of the confusion created by the collision of two calendrical systems. Some ancient traditions marked the change of season at cross-quarter days such as Imbolc when daylight first makes significant progress against the night. Other traditions held that spring did not begin until the length of daylight overtook night at the Vernal Equinox. So an arbiter, the groundhog/hedgehog, was incorporated as a yearly custom to settle the two traditions. Sometimes spring begins at Imbolc, and sometimes winter lasts six more weeks until the equinox.
According to Groundhog Day organizers, the rodents' forecasts are accurate 75% to 90% of the time. However, a Canadian study for 13 cities in the past 30 to 40 years found that the weather patterns predicted on Groundhog Day were only 37% accurate over that time period. According to the StormFax Weather Almanac and records kept since 1887, Punxsutawney Phil's weather predictions have been correct 39% of the time. The National Climatic Data Center has described the forecasts as "on average, inaccurate" and stated that "[t]he groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years."
Groundhog Day in popular culture
At the end of Disney's 1930 Silly Symphonies short film Winter, Mr. Groundhog the Weather Prophet comes out of his hole to determine whether or not there will be more winter. At first, he does not see his shadow, but the clouds clear and his shadow appears, causing him to run back inside. At this point, the winds picks up again and winter continues.
Tex Avery's 1940 Warner Brothers cartoon Wacky Wildlife features a brief gag with a groundhog that peeks outside, then retreats into a burrow filled with high-tech (for the time) weather equipment.
The 1941 Woody Woodpecker short Pantry Panic portrays the groundhog as a weather forecaster, although in this case he forecasts the timing of the beginning of winter, not the end of it.
In the 1979 Rankin-Bass Christmas TV special Jack Frost, a crucial plot point in the story involves Jack casting his own shadow on Groundhog Day for six more weeks of winter. At the end of the story it is revealed that the narrator (voiced by Buddy Hackett) is the groundhog.
From the 1990 album Frizzle Fry by the San Francisco area trio Primus, Ground Hog's Day appears as the second track. The song is set on Ground Hog's day, from the anthropomorphic perspective of the groundhog. The song's theme deals with growth, perseverance, and fresh starts.
The 1993 comedy movie Groundhog Day takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on this day (although the majority of the movie was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois). The main character (played by Bill Murray) is forced to relive the day over and over again until he can learn to give up his selfishness and become a better person. In popular culture, the phrase "Groundhog Day" has come to represent going through a phenomenon over and over until one spiritually transcends it.
In "Franklin and the Grump" from Franklin (Season 3, 2000), the character Mr. Groundhog was an anthropomorphic groundhog with a great interest in meteorology who didn't want to participate in Groundhog Day anymore because there were always those who were upset regardless of what he predicted. He "officially canceled" the holiday, but the title character told his friends and family about the problem and the entire community gathered to give him a day just for him. Mr. Groundhog was later featured as more regular character in the series.
In Disney's 2006 film Bambi II, Bambi accompanies his friends Thumper and Flower to go and see the Groundhog, whose shadow will foretell if winter will end soon.
In the 2012 Dreamworks film Rise of the Guardians, when the Man in the Moon is about to choose a new Guardian, Bunnymund hopes that it isn't the Groundhog.
On the deluxe edition of his 2013 album "The Marshall Mathers LP 2", Eminem raps about his constant state of instability as a child and his early experiences with hip-hop in "Groundhog Day".
A similar custom is celebrated among Orthodox Christians in Serbia on February 15 (February 2 according to local Julian calendar) during the feast of celebration of Sretenje or The Meeting of the Lord. It is believed that on this day the bear will awake from winter dormancy, and if in this sleepy and confused state it sees (meets) its own shadow, 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 the sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that the winter is about to end.
In Germany, June 27 is "Siebenschläfertag" (Seven Sleepers Day). If it rains that day, the rest of summer is supposedly going to be rainy. While it might seem to refer to the "Siebenschläfer" squirrel (Glis glis), also known as the "edible dormouse", it actually commemorates the Seven Sleepers (the actual commemoration day is July 25).
In the United Kingdom, July 15 is known as St. Swithun's day. It was traditionally believed if it rained on that day, it would rain for the next 40 days and nights.
In Alaska, February 2 is observed as Marmot Day rather than Groundhog Day because few groundhogs exist in the state.
^History Society of Berks County, Reading, Pennsylvania.
^The attribution to the "Germans" may be based on some German Bauernregeln (farmers' rules) like this one: Wenn sich der Dachs zu Lichtmeß sonnt, so gehet er wieder auf vier Wochen in sein Loch. (If the badger is in the sun at Candlemas, he will have to go back into his hole for another four weeks. Joseph Arnold Lewenau : Der angewandte Fresenius; oder, Sammlung geordneter allgemeiner Witterungs- und sogenannter Bauernregeln: mit beygefügten Erklärungen ihres Grundes und vernünftigen Sinnes zu einem nützlichen Gebrauch ... vorzüglich beym Betriebe der Landwirthschaft. Vienna: J.G. Mösle, 1823, p. 20.
^Groundhog Day, Margaret Kruesi. Journal of American Folklore. Washington: Summer 2007. Vol. 120, Iss. 477; p. 367+.
(Federal) = Federal holidays, (State) = State holidays, (Religious) = Religious holidays, (Week) = Weeklong holidays, (Month) = Monthlong holidays, (36) = Title 36 Observances and Ceremonies Bolded text indicates major holidays that are commonly celebrated by Americans, which often represents the major celebration of the month.