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Events and Exhibits

“It’s Groundhog Day!”

B2014 Punxutawny, Pennsylvania. Ground Hog Day. 1957.

Punxsutawny, Pennsylvania. Ground Hog Day. 1957.
A. Aubrey Bodine Collection, B2014, MdHS.

Groundhog Day is a much celebrated American holiday, but its roots stem from older traditions in Europe when people were more in tune with Mother Nature, seasonal changes, and animal behavior. Today, many Americans are aware of the summer solstice and winter equinox, but before the Roman calendar existed, the year was divided into four main parts called Quarters. The first day of each quarter was a solstice or an equinox. The four quarters were then halved, marking “cross quarter days,” the first days of each midway point between the solstices and equinoxes. Cross quarter days are February 2, May 1, August 1, and October 31. People used their knowledge of the earth’s movement around the sun to determine planting and harvesting times as well as creating the rituals that accompanied each season.

Many groups, including the Vikings, druids, Germanic tribes, and the Celts held celebrations during cross quarter days. The Celts called the the first cross quarter day of the year Imbolc. Romans called it the “Feast of Lights.” In Jewish tradition, early February marks the period when Mary practiced the traditional purification ritual that always occurred forty days after childbirth. The ritual also coincided with Jesus’ official presentation at Temple forty days after Christmas.

Pagan rituals evolved as Christianity spread throughout Europe. Christians celebrated “Candlemas Day” a religious holiday also known as the Christian festival of lights, by taking all of their candles, which provided light and warmth in the pre-electricity era, to church for a special blessing. Candles were also considered special because it was believed they held powers that prevented deadly illnesses like the plague. These Old World traditions were incorporated into the customs of the New World, most likely crossing the Atlantic with Dutch immigrants of German descent that settled in Pennsylvania between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. One of their old Germanic proverbs concerned a critter, the badger, who left its burrow to check on the weather:

diary entry of Dickinson Gorsuch III, February 2, 1861.] Caption: Baltimore County farmer Dickinson Gorsuch III noted “Candlemas” twice in his diary on February 2, 1861: faintly in pencil at the beginning of the entry and at the end “To Day Candlemafs has been damp and foggu (sic) all day.”

Baltimore County farmer Dickinson Gorsuch III noted “Candlemas” twice in his diary on February 2, 1861: faintly in pencil at the beginning of the entry and at the end “To Day Candlemafs has been damp and foggu (sic) all day.”
Diary entry of Dickinson Gorsuch III, February 2, 1861, Gorsuch-Mitchell Papers, MS 2733, Box 2, MdHS (Reference photo)

“The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemas Day, and, if he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining he draws back into his hole.”

Farmers spent much time watching the weather and reading Farmer’s Almanacs that offered important information such as lunar and solar eclipses, holidays, and weather trends. Some farmer’s sage advice included:

“A farmer should, on Candlemas Day, Have half his corn and half his hay.”

or

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight. But if it be dark with clouds and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.”

Researching the holiday was an odd experience because much of the information is not documented in primary sources. Web sites, some reliable, some questionable, pass around the same Groundhog story without footnotes. Not knowing the exact line where history, folklore, and fable meet regarding Groundhog Day, I relied heavily on the experts—the folks in Punxutawney, Pennsylvania—where the first official Groundhog Day celebration in America occurred in 1887, and where Phil, the “Prognosticator of Prognosticators” resides today.

In the early 1880s, a group of men in Punxutawney, PA wanted to celebrate Candlemas Day by capturing a groundhog, the closest critter to a badger, to predict the weather on February 2. By 1886, the group was officially named the Punxutawney Groundhog Club by a local newspaper editor. Over the next year, they planned the next Candlemas Day celebration which included the first prognostication on Gobbler’s Knob by a groundhog named Phil.

Evidently, Mr. Hess felt that his role as Chairman of the Board of Hibernating Governors was more important than his day job.

Evidently, Mr. Hess felt that his role as Chairman of the Board of Hibernating Governors was more important than his day job.

The celebration has grown over the years, especially after the popular film Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, hit theaters in 1993. Since then, crowds continue to flock to the small town in ever increasing numbers to witness the “Seer of Seers, the Prognosticator of Prognosticators” predict an early spring, or twice the winter.

While Punxutawney Phil is the original and most famous groundhog, other communities in the United States and Canada also celebrate Groundhog Day. Photographer A. Aubrey Bodine witnessed the celebration in Quarryville, PA in 1945. Men in top hats take what appears to  be a taxidermied groundhog out of its hole to see its shadow. The Inner Circle marches with all of their regalia (staff, globe, googly eyes) through the snow so their prognosticator can prognosticate. Other celebrations over the years have included Staten Island Chuck (NY), Buckeye Chuck (OH), Smith Lake Jake (AL), Octorara Orphie (Lancaster, PA), French Creek Freddie (WV), Woodstock Willie (IL), Jimmy The Groundhog (WI), Stormy Marmot (CO), and of course, Mountain Maryland Murray (MD). (Debbie Harner)

Baltimore Sun photographer Aubrey Bodine visited Quarryville, PA for their celebration in 1945. B2021, #5, #6, #8, A.ubrey Bodine Collection, MdHS.

Phil in his burrow the night before Groundhog Day, February 2, 2017

Phil in his burrow the night before Groundhog Day, February 2, 2017

Sophie and Leland Armiger at the entrance to Gobblers Knob before the big announcement, February 2, 2017.

Sophie and Leland Armiger at the entrance to Gobblers Knob before the big announcement, February 2, 2017.

Gobbler's Knob, February 2, 2017

Gobbler’s Knob, February 2, 2017

Phil saw his shadow...six more weeks of winter!

Phil saw his shadow…six more weeks of winter!

Sources and further reading:

Punxutawney Phil, 1954, A. Aubrey Bodine Photograph Collection, B2104, MdHS.

Quarryville, Pennsylvania-​-​Ground Hog Day: February 2, 1945, A. Aubrey Bodine Photograph Collection, B2021 # 5, #6, #8, MdHS.

Business card was located in envelope #9.

MS 2733 Gorsuch-Mitchell Papers, Box 2 1861 Diary, Maryland Historical Society.

www.projectbritain.com/year/candlemas

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/customer-support/education-resources/groundhog-day

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/short-history-groundhog-day-180958018/

http://www.groundhog.org/about/history

http://www.groundhog.org/about/about-groundhog-day/

http://www.groundhog.org/about/fun-facts-faq/

https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/groundhog-day

http://earthsky.org/human-world/everything-you-need-to-know-about-groundhog-day

http://www.almanac.com/content/quarter-days-and-cross-quarter-days

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/31/groundhog-day-2011_n_816480.html

https://www.mdmountainside.com/event/feb-2016-groundhog_day_with_murray

Discussion

One Response to ““It’s Groundhog Day!””

  1. Groundhog day is one of the most celebrated days in USA and Canada due to its old roots. Make it memorable by going social. Happy Groundhog Day

    Posted by Waqas | 27. Jan, 2018, 1:25 pm

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