If you’re the sort of person who has absolutely had enough of winter, cold, and snow by the time February rolls around, you probably also hope the famous Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow on February 2nd. According to folklore, a cloudy Groundhog Day on which the groundhog can’t see his shadow after coming out of hibernation signifies spring weather that will arrive before the equinox. A shadow, on the other hand, means six more weeks of winter.
However, there’s a lot more to Groundhog Day than the simple facts and folklore everyone knows. For instance, did you know any of the following things about this fun and memorable occasion.
1. Legend has it that Punxsutawney Phil is actually immortal.
A groundhog’s average lifespan is 6-8 years. However, legend has it that America’s favorite groundhog, Phil, regularly drinks a magic elixir that extends his life by seven years. It happens right there in Phil’s hometown of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania at the town’s Annual Groundhog Picnic each summer.
2. February 2nd isn’t just a random date.
Groundhog Day falls on the 2nd of February for a reason. It’s what’s known as a “cross-quarter” day, meaning it falls at the midpoint between one season and another. In the case of February 2nd, it’s the cross-quarter day that falls between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, making it the ideal time to consider whether or not spring will arrive early.
3. Traditional celebrations once involved eating the groundhog.
The very first Groundhog Day celebration took place in 1886 and was hosted by a group of elders known as the Groundhog Club. The Groundhog Club considered their namesake to be a delicacy in addition to a natural meteorologist. That said, cooked groundhog meat was a menu staple on Groundhog Day picnic menus that year. Those who have eaten groundhog meat often describe it as a cross between chicken and pork.
4. Punxsutawney Phil owes his status as a household name to Bill Murray.
Punxsutawney’s Gobbler’s Knob traditionally has seen an influx of tourists on February 2nd since the Groundhog Day tradition first began. However, the release of the 1993 Columbia Pictures film Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray caused those numbers to jump to 35,000. (At the time of the release, the population of Punxsutawney itself was less than 7,000.)
5. Groundhogs have something in common with catcallers.
Catcallers aren’t the only ones that attempt to attract the attention of a potential mate by whistling. Groundhogs do it, too. For this reason, they are sometimes known as “whistle pigs.”
6. Statistically speaking, groundhogs aren’t particularly good meteorologists.
To hear Punxsutawney Phil’s handlers tell it, he has a pristine weather prediction record that reflects 100% accuracy. In reality, his track record isn’t really all that great. According to Stormfax, Phil has delivered a correct forecast approximately 39% of the time since he first tried his hand at meteorology in 1887. That’s only 2% higher than the national average of 37%. Currently, the most accurate groundhog prognosticator lives in Yellowknife, California and has a 50% accuracy rate.
7. Groundhog Day was almost Badger Day instead.
Groundhog Day originally evolved from Candlemas, a celebration of both literal and religious light. Candlemas itself has also long been a day where people used animals to speculate about the weather. For instance, medieval cults held parties by bears’ dens while they waited for grizzlies to wake up from hibernation and “check the weather.”
Both English and German Catholics did something similar with badgers. However, when Germans settled in Pennsylvania and found badgers hard to come by, the switch was made to the groundhog.
8. Punxsutawney Phil has met his share of celebrities over the years.
America’s most famous groundhog meteorologist has several very famous friends. For instance, he had the pleasure of meeting President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He was also a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1995.
9. Phil has a wife … and they both dig a good read.
Phil is no longer a bachelor these days. He has a wife named Phyllis who helps him with his duties as the “Prognosticator of Prognosticators.” When Phil and Phyllis aren’t busily looking for their shadows on Groundhog Day, they reside quietly at the Punxsutawney Memorial Library. We can only guess at what they like to read about most!