Friday, February 21, 2020

Six More Weeks of Winter? The Origins of Groundhog Day

February second was less than three weeks ago, a “holiday” that comes and goes without much fanfare, except perhaps in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Many people associate Groundhog Day with the iconic 1993 film by the same name.

Groundhog, Woodchuck, or Whistle Pig,
Wikimedia Creative commons, {cc} 2007

On that day reporters reveal, tongue-in-cheek, whether or not Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow and predicted the length of the remaining winter. Just a few miles west of us at the Howell Nature Center, Woody, Michigan’s official woodchuck, also makes the same prediction.

Surprisingly, Groundhog Day’s roots come from a holy day celebrated from early Christian times of Jesus’s presentation as an infant in the Temple as recorded in Luke 2:22-40. There is evidence of this day going back to the fourth century A.D. in Jerusalem. The commemoration of Mary’s purification was added much later to the feast day. It takes place halfway between the winter solstice and the spring Equinox. Near the end of the 15th century it became known as Candlemas.

Sign in Punxsutawney, PA,
{cc} "Eddie," 2007
On Candlemas, throughout Europe, people would receive much needed candles which were blessed and distributed by the clergy for the cold, dark days of winter. The folklore of Christians in some European countries said that if Candlemas was a sunny day it meant 40 more days of a snowy, cold winter. As an old English saying went:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Then winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

The Germans eventually came up with their own tradition of the legend which postulated that if a hedgehog or other small animal came out and saw its shadow on Candlemas, then winter would continue for 40 days. When German immigrants came to settle Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought this tradition with them. With the absence of hedgehogs in North America, they chose the native groundhog to forecast the weather for the remaining winter.

Punxsutawney Phil in 2018,
Wikimedia Commons, 
{cc}, Luke Surl, 2019 
In 1887 a newspaper editor by the name of Clymer Freas, talked fellow members of a groundhog-hunting club into the idea of Groundhog Day. The group was called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. They gathered at a site called Gobbler’s Knob, where the groundhog, who saw his shadow, was the bearer of disappointing news. They proclaimed that the groundhog they named Punxsutawney Phil was a weather forecaster extraordinaire.

However, Phil is correct less than half the time. Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are chubby little twelve to fifteen pound creatures who you may see waddling along in your backyard. They are a member of the ground squirrel family and go into hibernation in late autumn. In February, the males arise and start looking for a mate before they come completely out of hibernation in March.

Historic Gobbler's Knob,
Wikimedia Commons, {cc} 2013, Doug Kerr
While Punxsutawney legend has it that Phil is 133 years old due to drinking magical punch during the summer, there have been quite a few of them. Groundhogs usually live up to ten years in captivity. Towns and cities across the country now have their versions of the prognosticating rodent, but thousands of people still gather every year at Gobbler’s Knob to see men in top hats deliver the news as to whether Punxsutawney Phil has predicted six more weeks of winter.

Have you ever attended a Groundhog Day celebration? If not, do you think it would be fun? We love to know what you're thinking.

Kathleen Rouser is the multi-published author of the 2017 Bookvana Award winner, Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and its sequel, Secrets and Wishes. She is a longtime member in good standing of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband of thirty-some years, and continues on the elusive quest to brew the perfect cup of coffee to enjoy while she is writing. Connect with Kathleen on her website at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser.

Bookvana Awards Winner

Sophie Biddle is an heiress on the run with a child in tow. Wary and self-reliant, Sophie is caught off guard when meeting a kind, but meddling and handsome minister at the local mercantile. Believing he has failed God and his former flock, the Reverend Ian McCormick is determined to start anew in Stone Creek, Michigan. While Sophie seeks acceptance for her child and a measure of respect for herself, the rumors swirl about her sordid past. Should Ian show concern for Sophie's plight? If he does, he'll risk losing everything — including his new position as pastor of Stone Creek. Will the scandals of their pasts bind them together, or drive both deeper into a spiral of shame?


  1. Thanks for the post! Isn't it amazing that such a simple thing goes back so far and has lasted so long? That's rare in these days.

  2. I know what you mean, Connie. I never expected to find that Groundhog Day had ties to an ancient Christian feast day!