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How German settlers created the traditions behind Groundhog Day

© dpa / picture alliance

This weekend we find out if we’ll have six more weeks of winter or if spring is around the corner! When the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, wakes up each year on February 2, tens of thousands of people gather around the furry creature in Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania. Will the groundhog see his shadow or not? The answer to this question will determine the future of our weather patterns. Or so they say.

© dpa / picture alliance

Groundhog Day brings forth a unique wintertime tradition, but the roots of this strange celebration can actually be traced back to German settlers. As many of you know, many of the early settlers from Germany built their communities in Pennsylvania, bringing their own traditions with them to the New World. Many centuries ago, Christian Europeans commonly celebrated Candlemas Day, which is a religious celebration marking the midpoint of winter (and also involves blessing and distributing candles). Germans added their own touch to this celebration; in Germany, it was believed that if the sun came out on Candlemas Day and an animal (usually a hedgehog) would cast a shadow, there would be six more weeks of cold weather. Germans called this the “Second Winter.”

“For as the sun shines on Candlesmas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May,” the Germans proclaimed.

When Germans settled Pennsylvania, they found groundhogs instead of hedgehogs – and that was good enough for them. They determined that groundhogs were intelligent enough to predict the future and decided that if a groundhog saw its shadow on February 2, it would foreshadow six more weeks of winter.

© dpa / picture alliance

Over the years, Candlemas Day became known as Groundhog Day – and the groundhog that was used for the annual forecasting even received his own name. He was first named the Br’er Groundhog and later named Punxsutawney Phil after King Phillip. The Pennsylvania Groundhog Club claims that Phil is 132 years old and that he “gets his longevity from drinking ‘groundhog punch.’”

We’re happy to know that German settlers brought both a fun tradition and the secret of longevity to the United States! Happy Groundhog Day.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy


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