You may have heard of the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day”, a comedy starring Bill Murray. Murray plays an arrogant weatherman who must report on Groundhog Day festivities in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He wakes up the next day to find that it is February 2—Groundhog Day—again. He continues to relive the same day over and over until he stops his self-centered behavior and learns to live his life differently.
But what’s a groundhog, and why does it have its own holiday in the United States? A groundhog is a large rodent also known as a woodchuck, and it’s common throughout North America. As its name suggests, it lives in a burrow in the ground, and during the winter, it hibernates (sleeps deeply for an extended time) there.
Many European societies have long traditions of predicting the weather based on animal behavior. Immigrants from Germany brought this custom to Pennsylvania, where they observed the local groundhogs coming out of their burrows in late winter. According to tradition, a groundhog will emerge on February 2. If it sees its shadow, it will be frightened and return to the burrow to hibernate longer. This means there will be six more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, it will stay above ground, signaling an early spring.
The country’s largest Groundhog Day celebration is the one featured in “Groundhog Day”, where a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil gives the spring prediction and is celebrated with speeches, music, and food. A custom since the 1880s, the prediction is also featured in national media as people await the return of spring.
While statistics show that Phil’s predictions are not accurate, it’s still a fun and quirky custom. And no, sadly, students do not get a day off of school for Groundhog Day.