Pennsylvania —Kutztown Punxsutawney Phil's handlers will say early Friday morning at Gobbler's Knob in western Pennsylvania whether he spotted his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter or didn't, signaling an early spring.
The 1993 Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day” made the yearly event popular, drawing thousands. European farmers celebrate the halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox with this practice. It also falls under the Celtic calendar and Candlemas. German-Americans in eastern and central Pennsylvania have been watching the groundhog emerge from hibernation for decades, and they have groundhog clubs and festivities independent of Phil.
Some consider Punxsutawney an unworthy competitor to their own events, which predict weather more accurately. At least 28 U.S. states and Canadian provinces have weather-predicting groundhogs, plus many smaller festivals.
“We know this is silly; we know this is fun,” said Punxsutawney Groundhog Club executive director Marcy Galando. “We want funny people here.” Celtic Europeans celebrated the four days between the winter, spring, summer, and fall solstices. Christian Candlemas coincides with Joseph and Mary's presentation of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem, which the Celts called Imbolc.
Ancient ancestors watched the sun, stars, and animal activity to influence farming and other decisions. The habit of watching badgers or bears emerge from winter hibernation to predict weather has origins in a similar German custom. Pennsylvania Germans supplanted the eastern and midwestern groundhog.
According to the late Don Yoder, a University of Pennsylvania professor whose 2003 book Groundhog Day explored the Celtic connection, historians found a reference in an 1841 diary to groundhog weather forecasts in early February among German families in Morgantown, Pennsylvania.
Yoder determined the holiday derives from “ancient, undoubtedly prehistoric, weather lore.” In the late 1880s, Pennsylvania Germans in Punxsutawney began picnicking, killing, and eating groundhogs to celebrate the festival.
The 1899-founded Punxsutawney Groundhog Club cares for Phil in a modified area opposite Memorial Library with a window into its burrow. The Punxsutawney groundhog predicts but is unpredictable. The groundhog appeared before daybreak in 1929 and late afternoon in 1941.
Two years after the Bill Murray movie brought back interest, event organizers worried about boisterous audiences partying all night, climbing trees, and stripping to their underwear. Six young males attacked a groundhog club leader in 1998 while he wore a $4,000 suit.
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