The History of Groundhog Day

I am writing this early in the morning, so we still do not know if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow or not. But if you are Groundhog Day fan (the holiday, not the Bill Murray movie) go check out Brad Hart’s post at American Creation about the history of this “holiday.”

He connects Groundhog Day to the Celtic pagan ritual of Imbolc, which was eventually replaced with the Christian celebration of Candlemas. He writes:

The colonization of many parts of Pennsylvania by German settlers, who eventually became known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch” (it’s worth noting that the term “Pennsylvania Dutch” does not mean the settlers were of Dutch ancestry, rather it’s a corruption of the German word “Deutsch”) brought with them to the New World many of their customs and beliefs, Candlemas being one of them. And since the traditions of Imbolc were embedded in with Candlemas, it was natural for these settlers to look for the same traditional weather signs (i.e. animals and weather patters) that they had embraced for centuries. The importance of the Candlemas/Imbolc tradition on the modern American Groundhog Day should not be overlooked.

And why predict the weather with a groundhog? Here is Hart’s take:

So why did the groundhog become the accepted animal of choice to become the “prognosticator of prognosticators?” The reason may be as simple as the fact that groundhogs were in abundance in colonial Pennsylvania at the time and are easier to deal with than badgers. With that said, there is another possible explanation as to why these early settlers chose the groundhog. The Delaware Indians, who settled many of the western lands of Pennsylvania in the early years of the 18th century, revered the groundhog as a sacred animal. In fact, they considered the groundhog to be the reincarnation of their honorable ancestors who had returned to earth. These Native people established several camps in the area including one they called “Punxsutawney.” The very word, “Punxsutawney” comes from the Indian “ponksad-uteney” which means “the town of the sandflies.” In addition, the word “woodchuck” (a woodchuck is the same animal as a groundhog) comes from the Indian word “Wojak.” The religious beliefs of the Delaware Indians suggested that a “Wojak” was in fact the ancestral grandfather of their tribe. As a result, groundhogs were revered with great respect.

One thought on “The History of Groundhog Day

  1. Thanks for posting this on your blog! It never ceases to amaze me how much our current holidays, festivals, etc. are based in pagan lore.

    Oh, and by the way, Phil saw his shadow today! =(

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