Groundhog Day Facts That May Surprise You

So here we are again. Each February 2nd, America’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, emerges from his burrow, and looks for his shadow. If he sees it, the legend goes, six more weeks of winter lie ahead. And if he doesn’t see his shadow, there will be an early spring. It’s really another seasonal moment to celebrate…to party…to have fun. 

But if you are anything like me, you have surely wondered where this whole schtick came from – and why – right?  So, before good ole Punxsutawney Phil makes his 2019 prediction Saturday morning, I thought I should do some research, and here is what I found.  

Groundhog Day didn’t always involve groundhogs.  

What I found was that Groundhog Day can be traced back to a Christian holiday called Candlemas Day – never heard of it to be honest. Each year, like Groundhog Day, on the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, members of the clergy would bless and distribute candles needed to get people through the remaining winter days. Makes sense.  Tradition went that winter would drag on if Candlemas Day dawned sunny and clear, but spring would come soon if the weather was cloudy.

Then, according to William Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, the Germans expanded on Candlemas Day by getting their meteorology cues from a hedgehog. Gotta believe there are some upset hedgehogs out there who feel their DAY was stolen. Anyway, Deeley also noted “We were all farmers, and we basically were depending on the animals to help us with the weather. We didn’t have weather satellites. We didn’t have barometers for this and barometers for that. Instead, German folklore said that if the hedgehog cast a shadow on Candlemas Day, winter would continue for six more weeks.” 

When German immigrants began to settle in Pennsylvania in the 1880s, they adapted the custom to use the more common groundhog, Deeley explained. The tradition stuck and continues to this day.

Groundhogs were not always treated as well as Punxsutawney Phil. 

As everyone probably knows, Punxsutawney Phil is treated like a King. But that was not always the case. When Groundhog Day first came to Pennsylvania, the “king” was the main dish at the dinner table.  Ouch. It was a party where the locals got together, and instead of “Phil” being the honoree, he was entrée. Hmmm, wonder what Groundhog tastes like, but I digress. 

There has likely been more than one groundhog Phil.  

Not sure I ever believed there has only been one Phil, but it does beg the question, how many Phil’s have there been in history? Well, some say that the Punxsutawney Phil is an immortal character, just like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck or the Easter Bunny. Deeley shared that “At our summer picnic, we give Phil a shot of this special punch or elixir, and for every gulp he gets, he gets seven more years of longevity. It’s a secret recipe.” Legend has it that the formula is so closely guarded, that even Deeley doesn’t know the whole thing. Folklore is that several Groundhog Club members and handlers contribute different parts of the brew, to ensure that the recipe never gets out in its entirety.

Anyway, according to the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology, the average groundhog living in captivity can live up to 10 years,. That would mean that if each Punxsutawney Phil lived a decade, there have been about 13 groundhogs.

Punxsutawney Phil is married.

According to Deeley, Phil and his “wife,” Phyllis, live together.  Cool. 

So, there you have it. Unlike most groundhogs, which hibernate through the winter, Deeley noted that Phil and Phyllis are kept in an environment with enough light and heat to keep them awake for Groundhog Day on Feb. 2, albeit a little groggy. 

Happy Groundhog Day from all of us at 78Madison.

Joe Bouch
CEO, 78Madison

78Madison is a full-service Marketing Communications firm – advertising agency – located in Central Florida – Orlando – Altamonte Springs.