Groundhog Day is a popular annual tradition held February 2nd. But it could easily have been called Hedgehog Day, had it not been for, well…we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Many of us await world-famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast for an early or late spring, based on whether or not Phil sees his shadow. Tens of thousands of people flock to Punxsutawney, PA to witness this tradition every year. Phil’s shadow is regarded as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather; no shadow is heralded as sign that spring is on the way. Everyone knows that…
But I got to thinking about it: how did that tradition get started? I didn’t have a clue and I wondered if anyone I knew had a clue. So, I asked a dozen people to tell me what Groundhog Day is about and I essentially got the answer in paragraph one…because ‘everyone knows that!’. However, I asked the same dozen people if they knew the origin of Groundhog Day…and not one person knew. I’m assuming many of our readers don’t know, either and with that, today’s blog will help resolve the question. We’re going shed some light on the origin of Groundhog Day (oops: light = shadow = six more weeks of winter?!) and share some interesting trivia about Punxsutawney Phil.
Groundhog Day as we know it evolved from traditions associated with Candlemas Day. In early Christian Europe, it was customary to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the masses. Candles where placed in windows and lit. This practice marked a winter milestone (it falls between the middle of Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox) and, as is true with Groundhog Day, the weather that day was significant, as noted below:
An old Scotch couplet:
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be twa (two) winters in the year.
It is believed Germany developed the tradition that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, the hedgehog would cast a shadow, scurry back to its burrow and slumber for six more weeks, thus predicting six more weeks of bad weather. This was termed the “Second Winter.”
Let’s fast forward to the 1700’s. Many of Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers were from Germany. Recall that Punxsutawney is in Pennsylvania? Anyway, as immigrants do, these German settlers brought their traditions with them. The settlers found groundhogs to be abundant (not hedgehogs), and deciding the groundhog resembled the hedgehog from their homeland, adopted the groundhog into their Candlemas Day tradition. Thus, if the sun appeared on February 2nd, the groundhog would see its shadow and hurry back into its underground home and slumber for another six weeks of winter.
A German saying:
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May.
We’ll share some more Groundhog Day tradition…and the trivia in our next post: Happy Hedgehog Day! Part 2. We hope you’ve enjoyed Part 1 and thanks for reading Gourmetmarket.com!