Groundhog Day (Canadian French: Jour de la Marmotte; Pennsylvania German: Grundsaudaag, Murmeltiertag) is a traditional holiday originating in the United States that is celebrated on February 2. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then the spring season will arrive early, some time before the vernal equinox; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its den, and winter weather will persist for six more weeks.
Modern customs of the holiday involve early morning celebrations to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow.
In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodes (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g'spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl in the center of the table.
Groundhog Day was more widely adopted in the U.S. in 1887. Clymer H. Freas was the editor of the local paper Punxsutawney Spirit at the time, and he began promoting the town’s groundhog as the official "Groundhog Day meteorologist".
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with Punxsutawney Phil. Groundhog Day, already a widely recognized and popular tradition, received widespread attention as a result of the 1993 film Groundhog Day.
The celebration began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. It has its origins in ancient European weather lore, in which a badger or a sacred bear is the prognosticator, as opposed to a groundhog. It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc (the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 2 and also involves weather prognostication), and to St. Swithun's Day on July 15.
The first documented American reference to Groundhog Day can be found in a diary entry, dated February 4, 1841, by Morgantown, Pennsylvania, storekeeper James Morris:
Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.
From England, the poem:
From Scotland, the poem:
From Germany, the poem:
In some western countries in the Northern Hemisphere, the 'official' first day of spring is almost seven weeks (46–48 days) after Groundhog Day, on March 20 or March 21; in others, that date is traditionally the middle of spring, just as the solstice in June is midsummer day.
The custom could have been a folk embodiment of the confusion created by the collision of two calendar systems. Some ancient traditions marked the change of season at cross-quarter days such as Imbolc when daylight first makes significant progress against the night. Other traditions held that spring did not begin until the length of daylight overtook night at the Vernal Equinox. So an arbiter, the groundhog/hedgehog, was incorporated as a yearly custom to settle the two traditions. Sometimes spring begins at Imbolc, and sometimes winter lasts six more weeks until the equinox.
Another theory states that the groundhog naturally comes out of hibernation in central Pennsylvania in early February because of the increasing average temperature; under this theory, if German settlement had been centered further north, Groundhog Day would take place at a later date. However, observation of groundhogs in central New Jersey is that they mostly come out of their burrows in mid-March, regardless of Groundhog Day weather.
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday since at least 1886. Other celebrations of note in Pennsylvania take place in Quarryville in Lancaster County, the Anthracite Region of Schuylkill County, and the Sinnamahoning Valley of Bucks County.
The day is observed with various ceremonies at other locations in North America, including Wiarton Willie of Wiarton, Ontario, Arizona (marks the start of boating season), Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia, and the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas (which has what is claimed to be the second largest Groundhog celebration in the world).
In 2017 Groundhog Day was scheduled to be observed at zoos in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Samara, Russia.
According to Groundhog Day organizers, the rodents' forecasts are accurate 75% to 90% of the time. However, a Canadian study for 13 cities in the past 30 to 40 years found that the weather patterns predicted on Groundhog Day were only 37% accurate over that time period. According to the StormFax Weather Almanac and records kept since 1887, Punxsutawney Phil's weather predictions have been correct 39% of the time. The National Climatic Data Center has described the forecasts as "on average, inaccurate" and stated that "[the] groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years."
A similar custom is celebrated among Orthodox Christians in Serbia on February 15 (February 2 according to the local religious Julian calendar) during the feast of celebration of Sretenje or The Meeting of the Lord (Candlemas). It is believed that the bear will awaken from winter dormancy on this day, and if it sees (meets) its own shadow in this sleepy and confused state, it will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging the winter. Thus, if it is sunny on Sretenje, it is a sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that the winter is about to end.
In Germany, June 27 is Siebenschläfertag (Seven Sleepers Day). If it rains that day, the rest of summer is supposedly going to be rainy. It might seem to refer to the "Siebenschläfer" squirrel (Glis glis), also known as the "edible dormouse", but it actually commemorates the Seven Sleepers (the actual commemoration day is July 25).
In the United Kingdom, July 15 is known as St. Swithun's day; it was traditionally believed that, if it rained on that day, it would rain for the next 40 days and nights. National Hedgehog Day, which was marked in the UK on November 21, 2015 out of observance of its domestic hedgehog's declining numbers, has since been moved to February 2, the same day as Groundhog Day.
Even within the U.S. Groundhog Day is not necessarily observed uniformly throughout the entire country; it is sometimes acknowledged differently in western and southeastern states where groundhogs are generally not considered indigenous. In the state of Alaska, for example, Marmot Day is celebrated on February 2 instead.
The Oregon Zoo in Portland has used hedgehogs instead of groundhogs to predict the weather on Groundhog Day.
Likewise, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Clark County, Nevada is home to a similar tradition that has been observed since 2000 with a desert tortoise named Mojave Max.
Louisiana celebrations also vary somewhat from the traditional Groundhog Day theme. Since about the late 1980s, Groundhog Day in New Orleans has featured T-Boy the Nutria, a coypu based at the Audubon Zoo. Since 1997 Pierre C. Shadeaux, also a coypu, has been the focus of "Cajun Groundhog Day" festivities in New Iberia. Because of Louisiana's subtropical climate, Pierre actually forecasts either a longer spring or an earlier summer, as opposed to the usual groundhog options of a longer winter or an earlier spring. Another Louisiana tradition influenced by Groundhog Day occurs in Shreveport on February 1—one day before Groundhog Day—centering on Claude the Cajun Crawfish. Claude annually predicts the weather for Northwest Louisiana-area parades held during Mardi Gras season, a season that has a long history in Louisiana but also happens to overlap with Groundhog Day festivities.