How the Pennsylvania Germans influenced early American icon Punxsutawney Phil
What a celebrity life it is for Punxsutawney Phil, the Groundhog star of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Instead of living in a deep dark burrow most of your days each year feeding off the likes of roots, grasses, dandelions and white clover… Phil lives in a lavish controlled environment at the Punxsutawney City Library feasting on a diet of (can you believe) dog food and ice cream?
Image is everything for this fifteen pound, one-day a year hairy wonder when the eyes of the world are upon you and proper pampered nutrition is a must when you’re the star!
Ever wonder where this “cutesy” second day of February tradition originated?
It has been recorded that German farmer immigrants that settled in the Pennsylvania region during the 1600’s also brought with them certain observances and traditions from their homeland including their fanciful passages of spring.
You see in Germany their Phil was not a groundhog but rather a fierce badger.
Upon arrival in America, the Pennsylvania Dutch (Germans) were at a loss because of the absence of badgers in their area but yet were awed by the bountiful populations of groundhogs that they quickly adopted as their annual winter to spring barometer for their attempts to predict the end of winter.
By now everyone knows that if the groundhog (Phil) comes out of his burrow on a sunny day and sees his own shadow, then there will be six more weeks of harsh winter weather ahead in the forecast. However on the other hand if Phil comes out of his burrow on a cloudy day and doesn’t see his shadow, then we’ll all be in for an early spring!
Of course astronomically speaking, the second day of February coincides with one of four cross-quarter dates as it is positioned at the halfway point between a solstice and an equinox of the year.
The significance of this is interesting as it applies to roots of today’s Groundhog Day because February 2nd is also celebrated in Germany (as in other parts of Europe too) as Candlemas Day which is a traditional Christian festival that commemorates the ritual purification of mother Mary, forty days after the birth of baby Jesus. Also sometime in the fourth century, candles were lit on this special Candlemas Day to symbolize the association of light with Christ.
This observance of Candlemas Day in early Germany was popularized by the Catholic Church in which the clergy organized and distributed candles to their parishioners for a special candle-lit mass that was held as a symbolic observance to also lighten up the darker days of winter.
Communities throughout Germany also recognized Candlemas Day as a time for everyone to take stock and account for all remaining food & clothing supplies to be certain to make through the duration of the winter season that remained.
Since a German badger was always known for watching for his shadow, it was actually farmers from southwest Germany credited with first using the badger on Candlemas Day (February 2nd) to gauge and predict the end… or extension of the winter season.
German farmers took much pride in forecasting the weather correctly so to have a timely and successful early planting season. It has always been said, to be a success at farming, one must develop a keen sense regarding the observance of nature and blessed with the impeccable timing for the opportunity of planting - all labor efforts were considered secondary.
In Germany, there once was a saying that “a shepherd would rather see a wolf enter his stable for his livestock on Candlemas Day rather than see the sun shine on the hay.”
Back in America the observance of Groundhog Day featuring Punxsutawney Phil was started by members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club of western Pennsylvania in the year 1887 but in more recent years gained global notoriety from the 1993 movie comedy hit classic of, “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray.
Today the celebration of Groundhog Day continues in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania drawing thousands of visitors from all over the world to await the sudden appearance of Punxsutawney Phil at Gobbler’s Knob hopeful that when he does come out… that the conditions will be cloudy and Phil won’t see his shadow so springtime will arrive earlier just around the corner.
~ Prost! (cheers)
GermanNationUSA is the Official Site of German-American Tourism & Commerce within the USA.
Also be sure to visit www.GermanAmericanFaces.com too and connect socially with other German-Americans from across the USA to discover faces, places and heritage…
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