MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Do We Celebrate Groundhog Day?

Happy Groundhog Day!  Punxsutawny, PA, saw another record-breaking crowd at their annual festivities this year, with more & more people attending each & every year since the release of the 1993 Bill Murray comedy, “Groundhog Day”. Some 30,000 people braved sub-freezing temperatures in Gobbler’s Knob to witness Phil come out of his burrow to ultimately predict 6 more weeks of winter (since he saw his shadow). And if you’re keeping score, this is the 3rd year in a row that Punxsutawny Phil has seen his shadow & called for six more weeks of winter.

But why do we even have Groundhog Day? Where did the tradition get its start?

Well, it actually goes back to a Christian holiday “Candlemas Day”, which was held every February 2nd (precisely 40 days after Christmas). In portions of Europe, it was believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of winter were on the way. In Germanic Europe, however, where Candlemas was called “dachstag” (“Badger Day”), they would use badgers to help predict the impending weather. According to tradition, if the animal saw its shadow on Candlemas, folks were in for four more weeks of winter. Prior to that time, however, earlier celebrants would use bears to predict the weather! But as bears’ numbers dwindled, badgers became the go-to meteorologists. The Pennsylvania Dutch ultimately brought the tradition here to the U.S., where they replaced the badgers (which were mainly found in the central part of the country) with the much more locally common groundhog.

It may or may not be the most accurate way to know how much more winter we have to contend with, but our current Groundhog Day tradition is certainly a cute & fun way to bring everyone together (especially considering it’s over something as mundane as weather).

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