American Holidays: Groundhog Day

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11627

How accurate are weather forecasts? Would you trust your planning to a large rodent with a funny name? Although not an official holiday, Groundhog Day is silly but fun, and has an interesting history!

categories

Social Studies

subject
Social Studies
learning style
Visual
personality style
Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

What happens if a groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day?

When you were a child, you probably watched the news every February 2 to see whether or not a groundhog would see his shadow.

According to the myth, if the groundhog sees his shadow, it gets scared and returns to its hole for six more weeks of winter. If the groundhog does not see his shadow, he takes it as a sign that spring is coming, and he remains outside his hole.

So, where did this legend come from, and why is it celebrated every year?


Groundhog Day is an unofficial holiday, meaning it is not recognized by the federal government, although it is celebrated every year at the beginning of February. While it is celebrated in the United States and Canada, the holiday's origins are European.

For hundreds of years, Germans believed badgers were intelligent animals, capable of predicting the weather. The Germans would watch the badgers to decide when to plant their crops. When Germans began settling in North America, they brought their traditions with them. Unfortunately, there were not many badgers in Pennsylvania, where large groups of Germans settled. Thinking the groundhog resembled the badger, they began watching groundhogs to predict the weather and help them decide when to plant crops.

Since the 1800s, Groundhog Day has been celebrated annually on February 2. It is uncertain exactly why this date was selected, but historians have a few ideas.

  • First, February 2 is also Candlemas, a Catholic holiday that celebrates Jesus's first entry into the temple. Many superstitions about the weather have been associated with Candlemas for centuries. For example, an old English song goes:

"If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again."

  • A second explanation for that particular date goes back to the New England farmers of the 17th century, who considered February 2 to be the heart of winter. Farmers would use the weather on this day to predict how much longer the cold winter weather would last. In addition, an old farming superstition said if a farmer did not have half his hay remaining on February 2, his cows would lose weight before spring brought fresh grass.

Today, Groundhog Day is centered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It has become more of a media event than an actual holiday. Punxsutawney Phil has become the official groundhog of Groundhog Day. Every year, thousands gather in Punxsutawney to see whether or not Phil will see his shadow. Many young children in schools will watch the celebration on television and make predictions about Phil's shadow. Aside from children, most people in the United States do not recognize Groundhog Day.

You can learn more about Groundhog Day by exploring the official Groundhog Day website (The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club). Be sure to check out the Legend & Lore page to learn more about the history and traditions associated with Groundhog Day.

What do you think about Groundhog Day? Do you think it is a silly or fun holiday? Do you believe Phil can actually predict the weather? Discuss your opinions with your teacher or parent.

Now, move on to the Got It? section to learn more about this holiday.

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