Who Started Groundhog Day? The North American Holiday Evolved From a Christian Tradition

Every year on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day is celebrated. How did this weather-predicting holiday originate? Here's everything we know about its history.

Kelly Corbett - Author

Feb. 1 2023, Published 4:40 p.m. ET

groundhog day celebration
Source: Getty Images

It’s almost time for one of North America’s weirdest holidays: Groundhog Day. Every Feb. 2, we put our faith into a confused groundhog who's probably just trying to have a peaceful morning but is instead bombarded with cameras and paparazzi.

If said groundhog sees its shadow, winter will allegedly last for six more weeks. But if this groundhog does not see its shadow, it is believed spring will arrive early.

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Punxsutawney Phil is the name of the weather-predicting groundhog that largely informs the U.S. Every year, a ceremony takes place in Gobbler's Knob, located in Punxsutawney, Penn., to watch Phil emerge from his hole.

It's a pretty bonkers tradition if you ask me. Honestly, it's hard not to wonder: Who started Groundhog Day?

Punxsutawney Phil
Source: Getty Images
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Who started Groundhog Day?

According to History, Groundhog Day hails from the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas, a celebration in which clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. Legend has it that the weather on this sacred day would set the tone for the upcoming months and ultimately determine how long the winter season would be.

In fact, the following Candlemas proverb became popularized: "If Candlemas be fine and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."

Furthermore, Germans who celebrated Candlemas decided to put their own twist on the holiday by selecting an animal (the hedgehog!) to do all the weather predicting. Thus, when the Germans settled in Pennsylvania, they continued the tradition. But due to the abundance of groundhogs in the state, they swapped out the hedgehog for a groundhog.

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groundhog day celebration at Gobbler's Knob
Source: Getty Images

In 1887, Punxsutawney Phil was incorporated into the mix after a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney, Penn. declared that a groundhog named Phil was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog.

And thus the iconic Punxsutawney Phil was born.

While other areas in North America have swapped out the groundhog for other weather-predicting rodents, (Think: Birmingham Bill or Staten Island Chuck), Punxsutawney Phil has remained the holiday's main character in the U.S.

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