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‘Twas the night before Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a misunderstood holiday, and perhaps by none more than Bill Murray in a movie by the same name. Unlike Thanksgiving, Canada and the U.S. celebrate Groundhog Day at the same time, February 2. According to a recent online article, the roots of Groundhog Day go back hundreds and even thousands of years, to the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc, held on February 1, exactly midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Imbolc was a festival for the coming spring, with primitive meteorology to predict how quickly spring would come.

Ah, my ancestors the Celts….

Christian missionaries transformed Brigid, the Celtic goddess of Imbolc, into St. Brigid of Kildare, a patron saint of Ireland. As for Imbolc on February 1, it became Candlemas, a feast dedicated to St. Brigid, on February 2. Although Candlemas was primarily a religious holiday, tradition held that winter was not over if Candlemas was sunny enough to cast shadows, but a cloudy, shadow-free Candlemas meant that spring was near.

According to an old (olde? :-) ) Britisih rhyme (rime? :-) ):

“If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”

All well and good… but how did the furry rodent get into the act? :-)

Although German immigrants to the U.S. (we’re ALL immigrants here) brought along with them the practice of trying to predict the end of winter by the hibernation habits of bears and badgers (how’s THAT for alliteration? :-) ), the switch to groundhogs did not “take off” until a group of local groundhog hunters caught the attention of Clymer H. Freas (that’s the link in which NOAA gets into the act!), the city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (ah, that old alliteration again!).

At this point, Clymer H. Freas went “groundhog-wild!” :-) He reported on the groundhog hunts and barbecues (yum! :-) ) and went on to promote Punxsutawney as home to a weather-predicting groundhog, sometime around 1887. The story grew and grew (as GOOD stories DO!) and pretty soon, with the help of other newspapers, Punxsutawney became the capital of groundhog meterology, “weather” you believe it or not! :-)

As for the furry forecaster, he became known as “Punxsutawney Phil.”

Up to 30,000 people flood Punxsutawney (population 6,271 in the 2000 census) to watch Phil make his prediction. Phil has also given rise to “Southern” groundhog meterologists, including General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta, GA and Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh, NC. Not to be outdone, our Canadian friends to the North (remember? They celebrate Groundhog Day on the same day as the U.S.) have Wiarton Willie in Ontario.

The article also includes information about groundhogs (AKA woodchucks, whistle pigs, and Marmota monax) under a groundhog trivia section, and a video trailer from the Groundhog Day movie.


-Bill at

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