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Early spring?
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Early spring?

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Early Spring?

Murray the groundhog resides at the Tree House Wildlife Center in Dow, Illinois. He often participates in Groundhog Day celebrations at the Alton Visitor Center. 

“Rise and shine woodchuck chuckers, it’s Groundhog Day!”

This popular line from the 1993 Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day,” where Murray’s character, Phil Connors, a disgruntled TV reporter, relives Groundhog Day over and over in the small western Pennsylvania village of Punxsutawney.

The basic concept of the movie is that Connors lives out the day repeatedly until he “gets it right.” 

Groundhogs aren’t necessarily the cute little creatures shown on television either. IMDb states that Murray was bitten twice during the filming of “Groundhog Day” and had to receive rabies vaccinations because the bites were so severe. Those big teeth aren’t just for show.

Groundhog Day is celebrated on Feb. 2 each year. The premise behind this is that if the groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, then we have six more weeks of winter. If the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow, then we have an early spring.

The first Groundhog Day, according to the History Channel, was celebrated on Feb. 2, 1887 at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

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The History Channel states that Groundhog Day originates in a Christian tradition known as Candlemas, where clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for the winter. According to the tradition, the candles represented how long and cold the winter would be.

Germans actually began using hedgehogs to predict the weather and when early German settlers came to the United States, they switched to groundhogs, which are plentiful in Pennsylvania.

The History Channel states that, “in 1887, a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog.”

According to Office Holidays, the date for Groundhog Day was chosen because early February is midway between the winter solstice on Dec. 21 and the spring equinox on March 20. Groundhog Day really isn’t an official holiday, but more a tradition that has just continued over the years said Office Holidays.

While most Americans don’t invest much stock in Punxsutawney Phil these days, most agree the day is still a fun tradition. The fact of the matter is, that whether Phil sees his shadow or not, spring doesn’t come until March 20, and that means – shadow or not – there’s still six more weeks of winter.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the groundhog is native to Missouri and is one of Missouri’s most widely distributed animals. The groundhogs’ burrows and nest can often conflict with property owners in the state.

Because the groundhog is so popular in Missouri, most zoos and animal sanctuaries in the state do not have a groundhog in captivity and most of them jokingly said, “we have several of them on the property.”

The Tree House Wildlife Center in Dow, Illinois, serves as home to Murray the groundhog. According to officials at the center, Murray often participates in Groundhog Day celebrations at the Alton Visitor's Center.

Matt McFarland is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616, or at mmcfarland@dailyjournalonline.com.

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