Feb. 2 is quite an interesting day. It was the day the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed to end the Mexican-American War. It was the day Venezuelan baseball player Ronny Cedeño was born. In 2000, was also the day when the first digital cinematic projection took place.
However, these are not the things that Feb. 2 is best known for (though perhaps it should be).
Every Feb. 2, one of the more strange holidays is celebrated in the United States: Groundhog Day.
Celebrated in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day surrounds the legendary groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, and his prediction of the coming of the spring season, depending on if he sees his shadow.
This legend was started by Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants who made their way to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the 19th century. It began with Candlemas, a holiday celebrated by German Protestants, of which many of the Pennsylvania Dutch were, which usually marks the halfway point between winter and spring. Some German-speaking people adapted this holiday to include an animal predicting whether or not spring would come sooner or later. When residing in Europe, the German-speaking individuals selected the badger as their animal meteorologist.
Upon immigrating to the United States, the German-speaking Pennsylvania Dutch changed the legend from badger to groundhog, as they were much more prevalent in the area. From there, town of Punxsutawney co-opted the tradition, holding the first official ceremony in 1887. According to the lore of Groundhog Day, the Punxsutawney Phil that attended the ceremony in 1887, is still the same Phil today. However, this is certainly not the case, as groundhogs can have a 14-year lifespan in captivity.
That being said, the success and relevance of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney has much to do with the eponymous 1993 film.
From director Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell star in “Groundhog Day”. Based in Punxsutawney, the film surrounds a self-centered weatherman who gets stuck in a time-loop while covering the Feb. 2 holiday.
The film was a smash hit worldwide, becoming one of the highest grossing movies of 1993 on a modest budget. Though its time-loop concept has since been repeated in other films, its legacy remains quite strong. The film isn’t just regarded as one of Bill Murray’s greatest movies, but also, to this day, as one of the greatest comedies of all time. The movie has had such a cultural impact, that the phrase “Groundhog Day” is now almost synonymous with a time-loop, rather than the holiday itself.
The success of the movie launched the holiday into the stratosphere, boosting the Punxsutawney ceremony’s attendance number by a factor of five. Close to 10,000 people began to venture to western Pennsylvania at the start of every February, to not just witness the legendary Phil, but to see the familiar sites of the film.
Ultimately, Groundhog Day is one of the strangest holiday traditions. It comes from a religious holiday, involves a mythical marmot and has increased in popularity almost solely due to a 1993 comedy that has virtually nothing to do with the holiday itself, other than the title and location. That being said, this world would be much less interesting if it didn’t exist.