Groundhog Day comes from our agricultural past and marks the halfway point to the spring equinox. Here are the facts and folklore about Groundhog Day. It’s so much more than a wacky weather prediction from a plump marmot!

When Is Groundhog Day?

Groundhog Day always falls on February 2. In the Northern Hemisphere, this date traditionally marks the midpoint between the winter solstice in December and the spring equinox in March. 

This year, Groundhog Day will be celebrated on Sunday, February 2.

YearGroundhog Day
2020Sunday, February 2
2021Tuesday, February 2
2022Wednesday, February 2
2023Thursday, February 2

Groundhog Day 2020 Forecast: Will Phil See His Shadow?

On early February 2, the nation (OK, a few of us) will watch with bated breath as Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow. It’s said that if Phil encounters his shadow, we’ll be in for six more weeks of winter weather, but if he doesn’t, then spring is just around the corner. So which will it be this year?

Update: Punxsutawney Phil—who hails from wester Pennyslvania—did not see see his shadow, which, according to legend, means an early spring and warmer temperatures are coming. Of course, even the organizers of the annual Groundhog Day event acknowledge that having a roden to forecast the weather is mostly a way to break up winter monotony.

According to our long-range forecast, we predict a slow start to spring. See our Spring Weather Forecast 2020.

Groundhog in snow. Photo by Brain E. Kushner/ShutterStock

Photo by Brain E. Kushner/ShutterStock

How Groundhog Day Works: A Holiday Rooted in Astronomy

So, now we know the legend of the groundhog: If he sees his shadow on this day, there will be six more weeks of wintry weather; if he doesn’t, then spring weather is right around the corner.

However, what most don’t realize is that Groundhog Day is actually rooted in astronomy.

The date is tied to the movement of the Earth around the Sun; it marks the approximate halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox! (Note: This is true for the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, Groundhog Day marks the halfway point between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox.)

How did it all start?

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The History of Groundhog Day

Originally, Groundhog Day was a Celtic festival marking the year’s first cross-quarter day, or a midpoint between seasons. Read more about the ancient Celtic calendar here.

Celebrated at the beginning of February, the day was called Imbolc—a term from Old Irish that is most often translated as “in the belly” in reference to the soon-to-arrive lambs of spring. The celebration of Imbolc signaled that the Sun was halfway through its advance towards the spring equinox, and the season of new birth and light was on the horizon.

This day has also been called St. Brigid’s Day, which stems from a mixing of figures and traditions from pagan and Christian beliefs. The Celtic goddess Brigantia is associated with dawn, light, and spring, which are qualities later associated with Brigid of Kildare, a Christian saint (and one of Ireland’s patron saints).

Candlemas

Though it is distinct from Imbolc, the Christian festival of light Candlemas is also observed at this time of year (February 2). The name refers to the candles lit that day in churches to celebrate the presentation of the Christ Child in the temple of Jerusalem. 

Groundhog Day has a rich history based on a deeper meaning; it speaks to the triumph of spring over winter—and birth over death. Again, note the appearance of light over dark with the appearance of candles and dawn—and, of course, the spiritual light of a holier presence. 

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Why a Groundhog?

So how does the groundhog fit into this ancient festival? Historically, a groundhog wasn’t the animal of choice: a bear brought the forecast to the people of France and England, while those in Germany looked to a badger for a sign. 

In the 1800s, German immigrants to Pennsylvania brought their Candlemas legends with them. Finding no badgers but lots of groundhogs (also called woodchucks or whistlepigs), they adapted the New World species to fit the lore.

Today, that lore has grown into fun winter festivals, with Punxsutawney Phil and furry fellows in other states presiding.

How Accurate Is the Groundhog’s Prediction?

According to researchers, the groundhog has accurately predicted the coming of spring only 39% of the time (at the time of this writing).

Of course, it’s all in good humor. As the Almanac says, “If he sees his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t, it’ll be six weeks until spring.” Get it?

No matter what the percentage, it’s a fun time had by all!

Groundhog peaking up

What is Groundhog Day’s Connection to Weather?

Since the traditional celebration anticipated the planting of crops, a central focus of the festivities was the forecasting of either an early spring or a lingering winter.

Sunshine on Candlemas was said to indicate the return of winter. Similarly…

When the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day,

There it will stick till the 2nd of May.

  • It was not held as a good omen if the day itself was bright and sunny, for that betokened snow and frost to continue to the hiring of the laborers 6 weeks later on Lady Day.
  • If it was cloudy and dark, warmth and rain would thaw out the fields and have them ready for planting.

Our Groundhog Day is a remote survivor of that belief. Though we recognize animal behavior isn’t the only way to judge planting dates, the tradition continues, often with a wink and a smile. 

Want to see more accurate planting dates? Check out our Gardening Calendar to find dates for starting seeds, transplanting, and harvesting in your area.

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Groundhog Day and Candlemas Lore

If Candlemas [February 2] be mild and gay,

Go saddle your horses and buy them hay;

But if Candlemas be stormy and black,

It carries the winter away on its back.

Just half your wood and half your hay,

Should be remaining on Candlemas Day

On Candlemas Day,

The good goose begins to lay.

When the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day,

There it will stick till the 2nd of May.

On Candlemas Day, if the thorns hang a drop,

You are sure of a good pea crop.

Wait, What Is a Groundhog?

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck or whistlepig, typically makes its home in the brambles and thickets that grow where forests meet fields. There, it digs burrows between 4 and 6 feet deep and up to 40 feet long—removing as much as 700 pounds of dirt in the process. 

Like its squirrel relatives, the groundhog eats leaves, grass, flowers, bark, and twigs and climbs trees to reach tender buds or fruit. This furry animal will also go after just about any crop, favoring beans, peas, and carrot tops. It may even take a bite out of every squash or pumpkin in a row, instead of consuming just one. See how to deter groundhogs in the garden.

But the mischief-maker is not all nuisance. Its burrows allow air and water to penetrate the soil and, when abandoned, they become homes for opossums and other small animals. The groundhog itself serves as food for larger creatures, such as bobcats, foxes, and wolves.

With hungry predators on the prowl, it takes courage for a groundhog to emerge from its hole every February to make its forecast. It must take its job very seriously!

What’s the Difference Between a Groundhog and a Woodchuck?

Every year, we’re asked if a groundhog is the same thing as a woodchuck. Yep. There’s no difference (taxonomicaly).  It’s the same borrowing rodent, Marmota monax. The word you use is more of a reflection of where you live. In cold New England, where we can pretty much count on wintry weather no matter what the marmot thinks, the term “woodchuck” is often used. The word comes from a Native American word. The animal’s Algonquin name is wejack or wuchak. What do you call it?

What’s the Weather Forecast?

For a forecast that’s more than folklore, see the Almanac’s long-range predictions or your 7-day weather forecast!

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