What Is Groundhog Day And Who Is Punxsutawney Phil? An Early Spring Or Long Winter Awaits!

Every year, February 2 marks Groundhog Day. While the frost is still thick on the ground in some places in the country, spring may be on the way. But why is this holiday not called Groundhogs Day or even Groundhog’s DayGroundhog Day does seem pretty strange …

Why is it called Groundhog Day?

Well, let’s start with why it’s not called Groundhogs Day, OK?

It’s simple really … the holiday traditionally celebrates just one critter, not more than one (i.e., the plural groundhogs). And, that groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, supposedly named after King Philip. In a small Pennsylvania town called Punxsutawney (located 84 miles northeast of Pittsburgh), Phil will be woken up from his winter hibernation in the wee hours of February 2. If he doesn’t see his shadow when he pops out of his burrow, break out the Coppertone. If he does—break out the rock salt for the driveway.

The official Groundhog Day website says there is a connection between this event and one known as Candlemas, or Candlemas Day, and this old English song: If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again. According to the official site, “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.”

Fun fact: the first Groundhog Day showed up in an American newspaper in 1886, and the first appearance by the varmint happened a year later at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney on 1887.

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What about the apostrophe: Groundhog’s Day?

Technically, since the day belongs to Phil, it would seem that there should be an apostrophe and an extra s tacked onto the end of Groundhog, doesn’t it? That’s the traditional way to show possession for terms ending in a consonant.

The grammatical oops on this one lies with the folks in Punxsutawney. They named their holiday without an apostrophe, and the name just stuck.

It’s not the only holiday to fall into a grammatical grey area either—Veterans Day is likewise written without an apostrophe, even in government documents.

You know who else struggles with that apostrophe? St. Patrick. Find out if it’s St. Patrick’s Day or St. Patricks Day.

What is a groundhog?

Groundhogs are not at all related to hogs, so their compound name is only partially accurate because they do live close to the ground.

The other common name for these marmots—woodchuck—is equally confusing. Woodchucks do not chuck or throw around wood, despite the popular tongue twister that queries how much they would if they could. As burrowing rodents, they don’t have much to do with wood or trees at all. In fact, the name woodchuck is a reshaping of a borrowing from a Southern New England Algonquian language, such as the Narragansett word ockqutchaun.

So, the word woodchuck has nothing to do with chucking any wood. It’s that English-speaking colonists apparently shaped the unfamiliar native term to look and sound like something more familiar to them, yielding woodchuck.

And, the name Punxsutawney apparently derives from a Native American name as well. In Unami (a Lenape language), Punkwsutènay translates to “town of the sandflies” or “town of the mosquitoes.” You have to admit, Groundhog Day is a better way for the local chamber of commerce to market the town instead of “Mosquito Capital of Pennsylvania.”

How often does Phil predict the weather correctly?

Well, The Washington Post actually did some research and concluded that “Even though Phil’s predictions proved correct for some areas of the country, the difference in average temperatures between years he predicted an early spring (times he did not see his shadow) and years he did not (times he saw his shadow) varied by no more than a few degrees.”

So, why do we still celebrate Groundhog Day?

It seems we can thank Bill Murray for this. According to International Business Times and HuffPost, the 1993 film Groundhog Day is seen as the reason behind the day’s continued popularity and celebration. In fact, the day is so popular now that other cities in the US and Canada have their own meteorological rodents. Phil has some competition.

Celebrate your curiosity by learning even more about the history and meaning behind Groundhog Day here.

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