The country’s most famous rodent is scheduled to issue a major weather forecast today. If the groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter. If not, then we’re in for an early spring.
That’s the legend, at least — one that was first celebrated 130 years ago today, in the hamlet of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. And we’ve been celebrating Groundhog Day ever since.
It’s one of several celebrations that have been tied to February 2nd, which is known as a cross-quarter day because it occurs roughly halfway between a solstice and an equinox. In some cultures, the date marked the end of winter, not the middle of it as it does in the modern western calendar.
The people of Germany and other parts of Europe thought that bears and other animals, such as the hedgehog, came out of hibernation at that time of year to test the weather. If it was warm enough, they’d leave their dens. If not, they’d go back in and wait out winter’s remaining chill.
German immigrants brought that idea with them when they settled in Pennsylvania. They found a lot of groundhogs there, so they made the groundhog the new arbiter of the weather.
Most early calls on the groundhog were made in private. In 1887, though, the editor of the Punxsutawney newspaper declared that his town’s groundhog was the only true judge of the weather. He organized a public event at Gobbler’s Knob — the first public celebration of Groundhog Day.
Script by Damond Benningfield