Weird Holidays: Groundhog Day

Every year on Feb. 2, a quirky little holiday that’s been celebrated for generations finds a small town in western Pennsylvania at the center of America’s attention, hosting the largest party in honor of the holiday. What’s the big deal?

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Punxsutawney Phil.

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Who is this legend who has an official club dedicated to his well being, social media accounts, and a wife and daughter? Not the man in the top hat, but the little creature he is holding: a groundhog.

Groundhog Day is an annual tradition in the United States, and the holiday has roots in ancient European (Celtic and German) weather lore, where it was first celebrated by Germans in western and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The claim is a groundhog (or badger or scared bear in original lore) comes out of hibernation for a brief moment, and if it is cloudy, then the spring season will arrive early (he didn’t see a shadow). But if he emerges from his slumber to find the it sunny, he will see his shadow, and that means spring will arrive late.

While Punxsutawney Phil is the most famous rodent meteorologist, there are dozens of weather-predicting groundhogs across the U.S. and even some in Canada.

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The holiday was made even more famous with the 1993 movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray as a weatherman who is trapped in a time loop where he has to relive Groundhogs Day every day. If you haven’t seen it, now is the perfect time to check out this classic.

Every year, over 30,000 groundhog groupies flood the town of just over 5,000 people for an all-night celebration of singing, dancing, and drinking that reaches its height with the emergence of Phil, his wife, Phyllis, and daughter, Phelicia, from their temporary home at Gobbler’s Knob on the outskirts of town.

According to lore, there is and only ever has been one Phil, and all other furry forecasters are impostors, making the fuzzy little fella the ripe old age of 131.

This year, Phil emerged and saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter. Of the 130 predictions he’s made, Phil has been right about 39% of the time.

We hope he’s wrong this year.

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Nacel Open Door

Nacel Open Door, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to international understanding and language education.

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