The Groundhog Day tradition comes from Europe, wherein a badger was used to predict
if people would have six more weeks of winter. In fact, people point to many different animals for predictions, from bears to wooly caterpillars.
America’s most famous groundhog, however, got his start in 1887. A journalist proclaimed Punxsutawney Phil, the local groundhog, to be the one and only weather accurate groundhog. It may be that this was a publicity stunt of the highest order, but nevertheless, Phil survives to this day.
According to his website, he gets a magical drink every summer to keep him healthy for seven more years. News outlets in the area report the club does not speak about how many groundhogs have taken on the forecasting role, though it can be an educated guess based on the average lifespan of a groundhog, which is about seven years.
Although most know Groundhog Day stems from Europe, its’ origins are not totally clear. Some scholars say that it began through Candlemas. This holiday was one wherein candles were lit and distributed on some of the darkest days of winter.
This holiday eventually declared clear skies on Candlemas meant a longer winter. Others assert that imbolic, a Celtic holiday that honored the fertility Goddess Brigid, and a foremother of
Candlemas was the true beginning of Groundhog Day.
There is a rhyme common in many households “If the sun shines on Groundhog Day/Half the fuel and half the hay” that is often said about Groundhog Day. So for the rural Pennsylvanians, getting a favorable outcome meant that life could be a little easier and the warmth of spring is a more vibrant hope.
In 2010, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) suggested that Phil be replaced by a robot due to the stress he experiences. The president of the club that oversees Phil said he is treated “better than most children in Pennsylvania.”
Phil consumes ice cream and dog food, as well as traditional groundhog foods of leafy greens. He lives in an enclosure with other groundhogs at the library in Punxsutawney.
In 2012, Phil’s accuracy rate was about 39 percent, according to Stephanie Pappas of LifeScience. While his rates are poor, most people who celebrate Groundhog Day do so out of cultural tradition and as a way to honor nature. Being that devotees often stand in freezing temperatures in hopes of seeing Phil, they are indeed close to nature.