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A Look Back: The history of Groundhog Day

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By Jolene Hawkins

Looking back to the history of Groundhog Day and you will read about the German settlers who arrived in the 1700s and brought traditions with them.

One of them was Candlemas Day, which was also a pagan celebration of Imbolc (lamb’s milk), so known because the lambing season had begun. It came at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition held that if the weather was fair on that day, the second half of winter would be stormy and cold.

For the early Christians in Europe, it was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of winter. A lighted candle was placed in each window of the home. The day’s weather continued to be important. If the sun came out on Feb. 2, halfway between winter and spring, it meant six more weeks of wintry weather.
The first mention of Groundhog Day that I could find was in a Pennsylvania Newspaper dated February 1841. So why did they choose a groundhog?

Well, in 1723, the Delaware Indians settled Punxsutawney, Pa., as a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna rivers. The town is 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, at the intersection of Route 36 and Route 119.

The Delawares considered groundhogs honorable ancestors. According to the original creation beliefs of the Delaware Indians, their forebears began life as animals in “Mother Earth” and emerged centuries later to hunt and live as men. The name Punxsutawney comes for the Indian name for the location. “Ponksad-Uteney” which means the “town of sandflies.” The name woodchuck comes from the Indian legend of “Wojak,” the groundhog, considered by them to be their ancestral grandfather.
What are some of the sayings? From England, “If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.”

From Scotland, “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear; there’ll be two winters in the year.”

From Germany comes, “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, So far will the snow swirl until May. For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day, so far will the sun shine before May.”

And from America, “Half the grain and half the hay ought to be left by Candlemas Day.”
Pennsylvania’s official celebration of Groundhog Day began on Feb. 2, 1886, with a proclamation in the Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper editor, Clymer Freas: “Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.”

The groundhog was given the name “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.” And his hometown thus called the Weather Capital of the World.
In 1893, I found the first mention of Groundhog Day in the Springville Journal. In 1933, Mrs. Emma Krepps from Springville had 12 robins under her apple tree eating frozen apples, must be spring around the corner. They had a groundhog coming out day party in the 1940s and singing and games were planned for Feb. 2.
So how often is Punxsutawney Phil correct?  From 1886 to 2018, 132 times in all, he did not see his shadow and predicted an early spring 18 times, and most claim the groundhog is right 35 to 40 percent of the time. What time of day does that take place? Not high noon, but at sunrise!
So what do you think? Is at all hogwash, or do we trust the furry guy that has gotten the name of Punxsutawney Phil, who hibernates five to seven months of the year and comes out on February the 2nd of each year to let us know if spring is going to arrive early?

Our winter this year has been a little strange, to say the least. Snow, wind, ice one day and rain and warmth the next. Shall we plan our garden now, or wait until the Sun shines and the weather is warm? You decided.
Either way, you can come down and do your own research at the Lucy Bensley Genealogy Center on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on the second and fourth Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Did you know you could also stop at the Mercantile on Franklin Street on Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and hear some good old music played by local musicians? More questions, email us at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com or call us at 592-0094.

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