February 2 is Groundhog Day! Learn about the fascinating — and absurd — history of this yearly phenomenon in Pennsylvania, and the furry forecaster who captivates the country each year.
Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, is known for many firsts – the first hospital, first library, first medical school, first zoo – and the first official celebration of Groundhog Day. But despite all these firsts, it is the furry forecaster on Groundhog Day that garners national attention from meteorologists and media outlets coast to coast every February 2.
When Europeans began to settle in Pennsylvania, they brought many of their traditions with them, including Groundhog Day. German communities unofficially celebrated this date as far back as 1840. Folklorist Don Yoder traces the roots of this odd event to the same cycle of pre-Christian festivals that gave us Halloween and Mayday.
The First Groundhog Day in America
On February 2, 1887, members of the local Elks Lodge first officially gathered at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to watch the groundhog emerge from his burrow and predict the onset of spring. So the story goes, if Phil see his shadow, he retreats into his den for another six weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, an early arrival of spring is on the way and everyone is happy.
Also known as a woodchuck, land beaver and whistle pig, these coarse-haired critters belong to a group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Over the years, this rodent has made a name for himself as one of the most trusted and beloved meteorologists around.
Who is Phil?
With a lifespan of 12 to 14 years in captivity, like Phil, scientists claim many “Phils” have played this important role in Pennsylvania since 1887. But, according to lore and Phil-fanatics, there has only been one Punxsutawney Phil. It is said that Phil gets his longevity from drinking the “elixir of life” every summer at the Groundhog Picnic. One sip of this secret punch magically gives the beloved rodent seven more years of life, making him 137 years old this year!
Phil and his wife, Phyllis, live in a climate-controlled, light-regulated burrow connected with the town’s park, Barclay Square and the Punxsutawney Memorial Library. The happy couple is cared for year-round by The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Each February 2, members of the club’s Inner Circle awaken Phil shortly after sunrise — usually about 7:20 a.m. As the world watches, Phil’s shadow, or lack of shadow, foretells the start of spring.
While this less-than-scientific approach is not always accurate — according to Stormfax Weather Almanac, Punxsutawney Phil has been correct 39% of the time — Groundhog Day is always 100% fun-filled with thousands of believers, festivities and dancing.
There’s More Than Just Groundhogs in Pennsylvania!
While the story of Punxsatawney Phil is delightful American folklore, there’s so much more to learn about and experience in Pennsylvania. Consider an expert-led experience through some of the nation’s most renowned art museums, including The Barnes Foundation, PAFA and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Or learn more about the history surrounding the Battle of Gettysburg as you delve into one of our nation’s most defining moments. If you want to try your hand at painting landscapes, wildlife and still life with watercolors, you might want to enroll in a watercolor workshop along the banks of the Delaware River. You might even spot a groundhog to paint!