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What is the origin of Groundhog Day?

The Answer

Groundhog Day itself began in the late 1880’s in Pennsylvania.

It was a local adaptation of a Christian celebration brought over by German immigrants called Candlemas.

Candlemas was itself adapted from the pagan celebration of Imbolc.

The first Groundhog Day was observed on February 2nd, 1887. The annual celebrations were started by German immigrants in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

The history of this mid-winter celebration, however, dates back much further.

When German settlers arrived in the 1700s, they brought a tradition known as Candlemas Day, which has an early origin in the pagan celebration of Imbolc. It came at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition held that if the weather was fair, the second half of Winter would be stormy and cold.

Groundhog Day History from Stormfax®

So, like many other modern holiday observances, Groundhog Day began as a pagan (Celtic) celebration – Inbolc – which was adapted to become a Christian holiday – Candlemas, followed by the modern adaptation – Groundhog Day.

In Germany the tradition of Candlemas involved checking to see whether a hedgehog saw his shadow. This was adapted by the residents of Punxsutawney to feature a groundhog instead. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club – “With the absence of hedgehogs in the United States, a similar hibernating animal was chosen.”

Where is Gobbler’s Knob?

Gobbler’s Knob is in Punxsutawney, PA. However, it is not in the center of the town square as shown in the 1993 film.

Do Groundhog’s Hibernate?

Groundhogs do hibernate. The time that they emerge from their hibernation can vary depending on the latitude and climate of their habitat.

The Chicago Tribune notes that groundhogs “hibernate deep into February and often into March in northern states”. They further quote animal ecologist Dan Thompson “If a groundhog is awakened from hibernation too early, it might not have the energy to find food and survive in cold winter temperatures.”

I don’t think we need to worry about Punxsutawney Phil too much though. He probably feels pretty groggy when he is woken early, but I have no doubt that he is well fed and taken care of given the number of tourists he draws to the local area.

How much wood could a “groundhog” chuck…?

Groundhogs and woodchucks are the same animal – Marmota monax.

Interestingly, the answer to “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?” is probably none. They don’t chuck (whatever that means) wood. The name woodchuck is derived from the Algonquin name for the animal – wuchak.

Groundhogs are also known as whistle-pigs and land beavers.

Originally published: Feb 1, 2020

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