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History of Groundhog Day and Its Famous Mascot, Punxsutawney Phil

Feb 2, 2023 | All About Animals, AZPetVet, Holidays


What Is Groundhog Day?

February 2nd is Groundhog Day, and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by sharing the holiday’s history and introducing you to Punxsutawney Phil, Groundhog Day’s marmot mascot!

The earliest history of Groundhog Day dates back to the 1800s and the Christian religious holiday of Candlemas Day. This celebration began as the day when people would take their candles to the church to have them blessed in order to bring blessings to their households for the remaining winter season.

As time passed, the celebration evolved into another form, and thus arose the English folk song:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

In particular, this folk song highlighted weather prognostication, which is the action of seeing or predicting future events, a power the beloved Punxsutawney Phil groundhog is believed to have. This interpretation of Candlemas Day became the usual for Europe. However, as you can see in the song, there is still no mention of Phil up to this point. That’s because it wasn’t until Germany caught wind of it that an animal was introduced into the mix, and the tradition evolved even further.

According to German myth, if the sun came out on Candlemas, a hedgehog would cast a shadow, predicting a “second winter” or snow all the way into May. If it was too cloudy and the hedgehog did not see its shadow, spring would arrive early.

This folklore followed German settlers to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. With the absence of hedgehogs in the states, they transferred the tradition onto a similar hibernating animal local to the region, leading us to present-day Punxsutawney and today’s observance of Groundhog Day.


About the Famous Punxsutawney Phil Groundhog

How old is Punxsutawney Phil, you ask? Well, 1886 marked the first time that Groundhog Day appeared in the local newspaper, so we predict he’s about 140 years old. However, a real groundhog typically lives anywhere from two to six years in the wild and reportedly up to 14 years in captivity. Here are some other interesting facts about Phil’s marmot community:

  • They’re related to squirrels
  • They’re impressive builders
  • They’re solitary creatures 
  • They’re heavy sleepers
  • They can climb trees
  • They whistle at potential mates
  • They’re primarily herbivores
  • Their litters consist of two to six blind, hairless young

The year following the first published recognition of Groundhog Day marked the first official trek to Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney- Phil’s Pennsylvanian-declared home. 

When travelers visit Punxsutawney to see where Phil makes his annual weather prediction, they often spend all their time searching downtown as that’s where Gobblers Knob was located in the blockbuster film, Groundhog Day, starring comedy legend Bill Murray. But, as it would turn out, Hollywood completely made that up. In fact, the movie wasn’t even filmed in Punxsutawney! The actual location of Gobbler’s Knob is a few miles down the road from downtown, in a small clearing just at the top of a wooded hill.

Although Gobbler’s Knob doesn’t see much action outside of February 2nd, everything is left in place for off-season tourists to enjoy, including the large stage, the “Punxsy Phil” sign, and even Phil’s tree stump. Next time you’re feeling spontaneous, pay him a visit! Perhaps you can even step in as co-anchor in his weather forecast. We’ll be here with our fingers crossed that it’s a cloudy day. Bring on the springtime sunshine, Phil!

Disclaimer: Not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately.