Punxsutawney Phil – the legendary groundhog weather watcher – woke up and saw his shadow on Thursday morning (US time), calling for six more weeks of winter.
Each February 2, on Groundhog Day, the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club make the pilgrimage to Gobbler’s Knob, near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Phil’s official home.
The group waits for Phil to leave his burrow and, legend has it, if he sees his shadow the nation for six more weeks of winter.
If he doesn’t see his shadow, the US gets to bask in an early spring.
Phil and his friends have been predicting the seasons since 1887, according to his website.
Phil’s prediction track record is not exactly perfect.
“On average, Phil has gotten it right 40 percent of the time over the past 10 years,” the National Centers for Environmental Information in America noted in 2022.
Despite his mixed record when it comes to actually forecasting the weather, there’s no doubt Phil’s fans still hold him in high regard.
The bizarre history of Groundhog Day
Every year, Americans in snowy states wait with bated breath to see whether Punxsutawney Phil will spot his shadow.
And every year, they take Phil’s weather forecast – six more weeks of winter, or an early spring? – as gospel, meteorology be damned.
It’s about as strange (and cute) as holidays get.
So how did Groundhog Day go from a kooky local tradition to an annual celebration even those who don’t worry about winter can find the fun in?
We explore Groundhog Day’s origins from a tiny event to an American holiday we can all be proud of.
Spoiler: there are badgers, immortality and at least one groundhog on the menu.
Groundhog Day was originally celebrated with … a badger?
Every February 2, the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club trek to Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney Phil’s official home just outside of town.
Donning top hats and tuxedos, the group waits for Phil to leave his burrow, and if he sees his shadow, the town gets six more weeks of winter.
If he doesn’t see his shadow, Punxsutawney gets an early spring.
The holiday evolved over centuries as it was observed by different groups, from the Celts to Germans to the Pennsylvania Dutch and eventually, by those in other parts of the US.
Its evolution began in the pre-Christian era of Western Europe, when the Celtic world was the predominant cultural force in the region.
In the Celtic year, instead of solstices, there were four dates – similar to the dates we use today to demarcate the seasons – that were the “turning points” of the year.
One of them, per Yoder, was February 1.
These turning point dates were so essential to Europeans at the time that they Christianized them when Western Europe widely adopted Christianity.
While May 1 became May Day, and November 1 became All Saints’ Day, the February 1 holiday was pushed to the following day – and would eventually become Groundhog Day.
First, though, the February holiday was known as “Candlemas,” a day on which Christians brought candles to church to be blessed — a sign of a source of light and warmth for winter.
But like the other three “turning points,” it was still a “weather-important” date that signified a change in the seasons, Yoder wrote.
And when agriculture was the biggest, if not only, industry of the region, predicting the weather became something of a ritual viewed as essential to the health of crops and townsfolk.
“If Candlemas day be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If on Candlemas day it be showre and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.”
The animal meteorology element wasn’t folded in until German speakers came to parts of Europe formerly populated by the Celtic people and brought their own beliefs to the holiday – except, instead of a groundhog, they hedged their bets on a badger.
An old European encyclopedia Yoder cited points to the German badger as the “Candlemas weather prophet,” though it’s not clear why.
When the holiday came overseas with the Pennsylvania Dutch, they traded the badger for an American groundhog, equally shy and subterranean and likely more prevalent in the area in which they settled.
Many sources claim that the original Groundhog Day took place in 1887, when residents of Punxsutawney set out to Gobbler’s Knob, known as Phil’s “official” home, but the first piece of evidence Yoder found of townspeople trusting a groundhog for the weather, a diary entry, was dated 1840.
And since Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants mostly arrived in the mid-to-late 18th century, it’s likely that the holiday existed for decades earlier than we have recorded, per the Library of Congress.
From a dinner plate to a pedestal: Phil’s journey to stardom
Part of the reason so many of us know about Groundhog Day is due to the 1993 film of the same name.
The phrase “groundhog day” even became shorthand for that déjà vu feeling of reliving the same day over and over.
He even charmed Oprah Winfrey, appearing on her show in 1995.
Before he was a celebrity, though, he was lunch.
In a terrible twist, the earliest Groundhog Days of the 19th century involved devouring poor Phil after he made his prediction.
The year 1887 was the year of the “Groundhog Picnic,” Yoder said.
Diners were “pleased at how tender” the poor groundhog’s meat was, Davis said.
Groundhog meat eventually left the menu of Punxsutawney establishments as the townsfolk realized his worth.
Before that, he was simply “Br’er Groundhog.”
But there’s only one Phil, and he’s the original.
Despite their early practice of noshing on Phil’s family, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club avers that there has only been one Phil since 1886.
He’s given an “elixir of life” every year at the summertime Groundhog Picnic, which “magically gives him seven more years of life,” the club said.
Phil also doesn’t have to spend the offseason alone.
He’s married to Phyliss, per the Groundhog Club, who does not receive the same elixir of life and so will not live forever like her groundhog husband.
Castaway rescued after four years hiding from sea lions, rats and Spaniards
There is no official word on how many wives Phil has outlived through over the years.
As for his accuracy in weather-predicting – Phil’s hit or miss.
He often sees his shadow — 107 times, in fact, per the York Daily Record, which has analyzed every single one of Phil’s official weather predictions since the 19th century.
Last year, Phil saw his shadow, which coincided with a huge winter storm.
Fingers crossed for better luck this year.