By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
10 things you didnt know about Groundhog Day
Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in Groundhog Day (1993). - photo by Jeff Peterson
Everyone knows the classic 1993 Bill Murray movie, and almost everyone knows the basics of the holiday its named after: Each year on Feb. 2, Punxsutawney Phil, the worlds most beloved seasonal prognosticator, peeks his head out after a long winter in hibernation. If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter; if he doesnt, we can all look forward to an early spring.

But theres a lot more to Groundhog Day than that. Its astronomical significance, its connection to things like pagan rituals and magic potions and the murderous rivalries in the groundhog community are just some of the things you probably didnt know about this weird, fascinating holiday.

So without further ado, here are 10 little-known facts about Groundhog Day and the very special rodent at the center of it all:

1. This year marks the holidays 130th anniversary.

The very first Groundhog Day was celebrated on Feb. 2, 1887, according to, and was the brainchild of a Punxsutawney newspaper editor named Clymer Freas. He organized local businessmen and hunters to form the Groundhog Group, which made the first trek to Gobblers Knob to witness Punxsutawney Phils prediction.

Today, the Groundhog Group has been replaced by the Inner Circle, who organize and plan the holidays events as well as look after Phil and his groundhog wife, Phyllis.

2. Its roots go back a long, long way.

While Groundhog Day itself is a fairly recent invention, it's really just a new spin on a type of celebration that goes back possibly thousands of years and spans multiple cultures. Rituals based around animals predicting weather patterns are widespread, although the dates vary by region as do the types of animal, which range from bears to badgers to hedgehogs or even caterpillars. According to the official Groundhog Day website, though, it was Roman soldiers who originally passed this tradition on to the Germanic tribes they came in contact with the ancestors of Punxsutawneys original settlers.

3. Theres a reason its celebrated on Feb. 2.

Feb. 2 wasnt chosen at random. It has astronomical significance, according to Known as a cross-quarter day, this basically means that its halfway between winter solstice and vernal equinox, or the point at which the days begin to grow noticeably longer. Because of this, its seen as an auspicious date in both pagan and Christian traditions across Europe, according to Irish Celts, for example, celebrated it as Imbolc, the symbolic return of light after winter. Similarly, Christians from the fourth century on have celebrated it as Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus. Part of this celebration involves the blessing of candles to be used in the coming year.

Rather significantly, in places like England, Germany and France, good weather on Candlemas is believed to predict a long winter, as shown in this version of a traditional English rhyme (from If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, / winter will have another bite. / If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, / winter is gone and will not come again."

4. Groundhogs arent just good for predicting weather.

According to Don Yoders book Groundhog Day, one of the ways in which Punxsutawney residents originally celebrated was with a groundhog hunt followed by a Groundhog Picnic at which the cuddly little rodents caught during the daytime were then served up as the featured item on the menu.

5. Its also known as Crpe Day.

A more palatable option than eating groundhog might be the French version of the holiday. As part of the local Candlemas customs, aka La Fte de la Chandeleur, French Catholics eat crpes. The round shape is said to symbolize the sun. A key part of the preparation, though, according to the French Cultural Center, is holding a coin in one hand while attempting to flip the crpe in the pan with the other; if the crepe doesnt break, your family wont have to worry about finances for another year.

6. English is verboten at some Groundhog Day celebrations.

Be careful what you say if you happen to attend a Groundhog Day celebration in some parts of Pennsylvania where Pennsylvania Dutch culture is still strong. At many of these gatherings, or Fersommling, speaking English can get you fined, according to usually a nickel or dime per offending word. If you happen to speak Pennsylvania Dutch, though, there are songs, stories, skits and other activities celebrating the local heritage.

7. Punxsutawney Phil is basically immortal.

Ordinary groundhogs only live about six years in the wild, according to, but Phil is no ordinary groundhog. Not only is he named after a king and has his own language, called Groundhogese, according to local legend, thanks to the magical Groundhog Punch he drinks every summer (, Phils life is extended almost indefinitely. One sip of the magical elixir is good enough to extend his life for another seven years, which explains how hes managed to stay in the weather forecasting game for more than a century with no signs of stopping any time soon. However, according to, it can also change his appearance, which is why he sometimes looks like a different groundhog year to year.

8. Hes apparently a bit of a boozehound.

During prohibition, Phils prediction one year went off the rails when he threatened 60 weeks of winter if he didnt get some alcohol, according to

9. But he isnt very accurate.

It turns out that, as remarkable as Punxsutawney Phil obviously is in many other capacities, hes not the best meteorologist. According to, data from Stormfax Almanac shows that his overall accuracy since 1887 has been a weak to middling 39 percent. And its actually been getting worse. Looking at his predictions from 1969 on, the overall accuracy drops to just 36 percent. In other words, as Tim Roche of Weather Underground said, Youll be better off flipping a coin than going by the groundhogs predictions.

10. Phil has some tough competition.

Phil might be the most popular, but he isnt the only weather-predicting groundhog out there. He faces stiff competition from all over North America, including Georgias General Beauregard Lee, who holds two honorary doctorates, one in weather prognostication and the other in groundology; Nova Scotias Shubenacadie Sam, whose geographic location in the Atlantic time zone gives him an early start each year; Louisianas Pierre C. Shadeaux, the Cajun sensation; and Ontarios Wiarton Willie, the albino groundhog whose short career began under a cloud of scandal and who, many believe, may have murdered two of his groundhog understudies, according to

And thats not all. Phil doesnt just have to contend with other groundhogs. Theres also T-Boy the Nutria (a type of semi-aquatic rodent from South America) and Claude the Cajun Crawfish, both from Louisiana, as well as Mojave Max (, a Nevada desert tortoise each of which has a dedicated fan base.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters