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Why A Groundhog? Groundhog Day History & Folklore

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Why A Groundhog? Groundhog Day History & Folklore

Saturday, February 2, 2019 is Groundhog Day (also known as Candlemas Day), a fun holiday that has its roots in the Pennsylvania “Dutch” (German) tradition. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when the groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day (no shadow) then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and winter will persist for the remaining six weeks.

Everyone will no doubt be waiting with bated breath to see what Punxsutawney Phil, North America’s most famous groundhog from Pennsylvania, predicts for the remainder of the winter. But there’s no need to wait until then to find out! It’s right in the pages of the Farmers’ Almanac: we have the forecast for the next 6 weeks … and 6 months! But we don’t mind if people are curious about what the groundhog says; after all, it’s a tradition steeped in folklore. We love weather folklore and often find it to be surprisingly accurate.

The History of Groundhog Day

The date of the celebration coincides with the medieval feast of Candlemas, and its pre-Christian predecessor, Imbolc, a day that is also rich in folklore. An old Scottish prophecy foretells that sunny weather on Candlemas means a long winter. The tradition is recounted in this old Scottish poem:

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop.

From Hedgehogs to Groundhogs

Ancient Europeans had long held that badgers and hedgehogs could foretell the weather, and came to combine this belief with the rituals surrounding Candlemas. After emigrating to Southeastern Pennsylvania, early German-American settlers substituted groundhogs, which were plentiful in their new homeland.

Punxsutawney Phil is the focal point of the oldest and largest annual Groundhog Day celebration, held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, every year since 1886. Members of Phil’s “Inner Circle” claim that he is now 130 years old, thanks to a magical life-extending serum they feed him each year—and that his predictions are 100 percent accurate.

Other Groundhog Forecasters

Phil may be the most famous, but there are a number of other groundhogs that hold court at celebrations across North America, they include:

  • Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario, Canada
  • Staten Island Chuck in New York City
  • General Beauregard Lee in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Malverne Mel and Melissa in Malverne, New York
  • Brandon Bob in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada
  • Balzac Billy in Balzac, Alberta, Canada
  • Shubenacadie Sam in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Gary the Groundhog in Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada
  • Spanish Joe in Spanish, Ontario, Canada
  • Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh, N.C.,
  • Pardon Me Pete in Tampa, Florida
  • Jimmy the Groundhog in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
  • Octoraro Orphie in Quarryville, Pennsylvania
  • Dunkirk Dave in Dunkirk, New York
  • Buckeye Chuck in Ohio

So, Will Spring Come Early in 2019?

Farmers’ Almanac’s long-range weather forecasts are not based on folklore but rather a set of rules that take many astronomical and mathematical factors into consideration. Learn how we make our predictions here.

If you read our winter outlook, you know that we are predicting a very frigid mid-February which may bring blustery and bitter winds and widespread snow showers, especially to zones 1, 2, and 3.

Spring weather will not be arriving anytime soon. Mid-March could be stormy virtually coast to coast, bringing snow, sleet, and/or rain as well as strong and gusty winds to many areas. In particular, we are red-flagging March 20–23 for a potent East Coast storm that could deliver a wide variety of wintry precipitation just as we are making the transition from winter to spring.

Check the forecast for your zone here, or get spring, summer, and next fall’s forecast in the 2019 Farmers’ Almanac.

Happy Groundhog Day! We, too, will be watching to see what the sleepy marmot predicts, but shadow or no, we won’t be putting away our boots, coats, and mittens anytime soon.

8 comments

1 Jule Batherson { 03.03.19 at 4:33 am }

anything to try to convince people it isnt cold . Our Sun had no spots this past month. Chances of warmth anytime soon is highly dubious. Love the Farmers tho.

2 Bob { 02.01.19 at 12:45 pm }

I’m not surprised Phill see’s his shadow, There is a million candle power of lights pointed at him…Daaaaaa!

3 Mary Bjornson { 02.01.18 at 4:58 pm }

Woodstock Willie in Woodstock, IL.

4 Mary Bjornson { 02.01.18 at 4:57 pm }

Woodstock Willie in Woodstock, IL (home of the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’

5 Linda { 02.01.18 at 4:47 pm }

Don’t forget Winnipeg Wynn in Manitoba

6 Anne Denise { 01.31.18 at 9:45 am }

Candlemas didn’t just “coincide” with Imbolc, it was the medieval church’s attempt to replace it, as they tried to stamp out ancient Celtic and pagan religions. All primary Christian holidays were established at the times traditionally held for ancient Celtic holidays, including Easter and Christmas. That this article didn’t mention the word Celtic once is strange.

7 Debb { 02.01.17 at 1:55 pm }

Dunkirk Dave – Dunkirk, New York

8 nora { 02.01.16 at 5:34 pm }

Phil, the honorary, meteorolgist, shows up, once a year, for a few minutes, and the
Nation watches
Awesome Gig, Phil!

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

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