Groundhog Day – specifically Feb. 2 – traces its roots back to an ancient celebration of the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. According to legend, a sunny sky on that day signifies a stormy and cold second half of winter while a cloudy sky indicates the arrival of warm weather.
In 1887, Clymer H. Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper, was inspired by a group of local groundhog hunters to form the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club with Phil as America’s official forecasting groundhog. Phil’s fame grew and soon, people around the country began looking to him for weather predictions. Those predictions have been overwhelmingly in favor of more winter.
Things you may not know about Phil…
- When Phil isn’t forecasting, he lives in a Punxsutawney zoo at with his wife, Phyllis.
- Tradition holds there’s only been one Punxsutawney Phil and that he’ll be 132 years old on Feb. 2. The Groundhog Club claims “Phil gets his longevity from drinking ‘groundhog punch’ (a secret recipe). One sip, which is administered every summer at the Groundhog Picnic, gives him seven more years of life.” However, since a groundhog’s life expectancy is between 6-8 years, you be the judge.
- The average groundhog is 20 inches long and normally weighs from 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds and is 22 inches long. Groundhogs are covered with coarse grayish hairs tipped with brown or sometimes dull red. They have short ears, a short tail, short legs, and are surprisingly quick with exceptionally strong jaws.
- A groundhog can whistle when it is alarmed. Groundhogs also whistle in the spring when they begin courting.
- Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasts are not made in advance by the Inner Circle. After Phil emerges from his burrow on February 2nd, he speaks to the Groundhog Club President in Groundhogese. His proclamation is then translated for the world.
- The celebration of Groundhog Day began with the Germans, Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers. They brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day, which states “For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May…”. The settlers found that groundhogs were plentiful and were the most intelligent and sensible animal to carry on the legend of Candlemas Day.
- Punxsutawney Phil was named after King Phillip. Prior to being called Phil, he was called Br’er Groundhog.