Groundhog Day’s ancient origins

On February 2, millions of Americans will turn their focus to Gobbler’s Knob. Everyone will be eager to learn if we’ll get an early spring (fingers crossed 🤞) or six more weeks of winter when Punxsutawney Phil makes his dawn appearance.

Punxsutawney Phil
Punxsutawney Phil

If the great prognosticator sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. However, if he does not, spring is just around the corner.

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club has been observing this mock pagan ritual of weather forecasting atop Gobbler’s Knob since 1886.

Punxsutawney Groundhog Club
Punxsutawney Groundhog Club

As with many holiday traditions, the history of Groundhog Day is shrouded in lore, and deciphering fact from myth can be complicated. Its origin possibly dates back as far as the ancient Greeks, who believed that an animal’s shadow was its soul blackened by the past year’s sins. During winter hibernation, the animal’s soul was cleansed.

groundhogSleeping1

Should the animal awaken before winter is over, he would see his shadow and be frightened. In his horror, he would return to his den to give nature more time to purify his soul.

German ancestors of the Pennsylvania Dutch associated this belief with the Dachs (the German word for the European badger). However, when they settled here in the 18th Century, they could not find Dachs, so they substituted the animal with the groundhog.

European badger and the Groundhog
European Badger and the Groundhog

Also, there is the European Christian holiday of Candlemas Day, which is celebrated on February 2. On this day, people would take their candles to church to have them blessed in hopes of blessings for their household for the rest of winter. As with many holidays, lore merged with religious celebration.

One popular English folk song of the time included these lyrics:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

From this, it’s not a far stretch to see how people connected shadows with longer winters and no shadows with the coming spring and the selection of February 2 as the day to mark the holiday.

Grundsowdag

Groundhog Day could be considered the national holiday of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The holiday is marked by many grand celebrations from Grundsow Lodge Nummer Ains (Groundhog Lodge No. 1) near Allentown to 15 others from Stroudsburg to Philadelphia. Undoubtedly, the most mad-capped ceremony is held by the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge on the banks of Puddle Duck Creek south of Quarryville.

Slumbering Groundhog Lodge
Slumbering Groundhog Lodge

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