Groundhog Day… the awaited day, each year, for one special four-legged weather predictor to let the U.S. know if they will be blessed with an early spring or have more cold winter days ahead. Groundhog Day falls on February 2nd every year and many tune in to view the prediction live, from Punxsutawney. But why not be there in person to witness that prognosticator of prognosticators? If you go - what do you know about the quintessential Pennsylvania town?
Punxsutawney is located about an hour and a half northeast of Pittsburgh, at the crossroads of PA Route 36 and US Route 119, in Jefferson County. With the Mahoning Creek running right through town and as the southwestern gateway into the PA Wilds and the Great Outdoors, Punxsutawney is surrounded by natural beauty and resources that make it the perfect spot for a visitor or resident to find an easy-going lifestyle. Historic downtown Punxsutawney celebrates its late Victorian and Romanesque Revival architectural styles in local buildings and has a business district where generational businesses still thrive.
Punxsutawney comes alive when celebrating the arts, culture and heritage through community-wide events and activities.
The Groundhog Day tradition is the most well-known, for its long-standing celebration of Groundhog Day on February 2nd and even has a beloved comedy movie about the festivities. Punxsutawney’s most famous resident, Punxsutawney Phil, has been predicting an early spring or six more weeks of winter for the rest of the country, since the late 1880’s.
A little history lesson about how the holiday came about: The Christian religious holiday of Candlemas Day has become most commonly associated with the current celebration, but its roots are older than that. The celebration started in Christianity as the day, (February 2nd), when Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed. This, they felt, would bring blessings to their household for the remaining winter. As time rolled on, the day evolved into another form. The following English folk song highlights the transition to weather prognostication.
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
This “interpretation” of Candlemas Day became the norm for most of Europe. As you can read, there is no mention of an animal of any kind in the preceding song. It wasn't until this traditional belief was introduced to Germany that an animal was introduced into the lore, hence another evolution of February 2nd. If, according to German lore, the hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day there would be a “Second Winter” or six more weeks of bad weather. As German settlers came to what is now the United States, so too came their traditions and folklore. With the absence of hedgehogs in the United States, a similar hibernating animal was chosen. This leads us to yet another evolution in the legend and to present day Punxsutawney.
In Punxsutawney, 1886 marked the first time that Groundhog Day appeared in the local newspaper. The following year brought the first official trek to Gobbler's Knob. Each year since then has seen a steady increase in participation of the celebration from people all over the world. Today, Groundhog Day remains what it was when the tradition first came to our shores and found its way to Punxsutawney.
So, who is in charge of the annual day of festivities for Groundhog Day? Who are the gentlemen in the top hats? They would be members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle is comprised of fifteen members whose task it is to protect and perpetuate the legend of the great weather-predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. The club was formed in the 1880’s, and as the legend of Punxsutawney Phil grew, so too did the ceremony that honors him every February 2nd at Gobblers Knob. The Inner Circle manages and hosts the festivities of Groundhog Day that culminate at 7:20am when they don their tuxedos and top hats to help bring Punxsutawney Phil from his stump so that he can tell the world if it will be an early spring, or if six more weeks of winter are ahead.
Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostications have drawn the attention and praise of thousands of his faithful followers who now flock to Gobblers Knob each year from around the world. With so many of Phil’s fans now devoted to the celebration, the Inner Circle hosts additional events and gatherings throughout the week leading up to Groundhog Day, including the Groundhog Ball and the Groundhog Banquet. Phil and the club also travel throughout the world, visiting people who wish to meet Phil and find out more about his amazing popularity and regal stature. In the late summer, the club makes a Trek to Phil's Stump at Gobbler's Knob to feed him his “Elixir of Life.” The elixir is made from a secret recipe and provides Phil with the potion that has sustained his longevity and youthful good looks. While the Inner Circle acts as the keepers and protectors of Punxsutawney Phil, the Groundhog Club consists of many more wonderful members from around the world. Membership is available to anyone, and includes the benefits worthy of being a “Faithful Follower of Phil.”
Thinking about making the visit to Gobbler’s Knob for the fun-filled tradition? Groundhog Day brings thousands of people together from all over the world to celebrate the prediction of a furry forecaster. And with all of the festivities leading up to the event and throughout the day, it is a joyous time had by all of the locals and travelers alike! What would you rather be doing in the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter in western PA? How about enjoying the ambiance of the brisk night air with thousands of new friends by your side, waiting for the Seer of Seers, Punxsutawney Phil, to make his prognostication sounds like a great thing to experience!
Learn more about Punxsutawney and Groundhog Day at groundhog.org.