Every year, February 2 marks Groundhog Day. While the frost is still thick on the ground in some places of the country, spring may be on the way. But, why is this holiday not called Groundhogs Day or even Groundhog’s Day? Groundhog Day seems pretty strange …
Why is it called Groundhog Day?
Well, let’s start with why it’s not called Groundhogs Day, OK?
It’s simple really … the holiday traditionally celebrates just one critter, not more than one (i.e., the plural groundhogs). And, that groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, supposedly named after King Phillip. In a small Pennsylvania town called Punxsutawney (located 84 miles northeast of Pittsburgh), Phil will be woken up from his winter hibernation in the wee hours of February 2. If he doesn’t see his shadow when he pops out of his burrow, break out the Coppertone. If he does—break out the rock salt for the driveway.
The official Groundhog Day website says there is a connection between this event and one known as Candlemas, or Candlemas Day, and this old English song:If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again.According to the official site, “The celebration started in Christianity as the day, (February 2nd), when Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed. This, they felt, would bring blessings to their household for the remaining winter.”
Fun fact: The first Groundhog Day showed up in an American newspaper in 1886, and the first appearance by the varmint happened a year later at Gobbler’s Knob in Punsutawney on 1887.
What about the apostrophe: Groundhog’s Day?
Technically, since the day belongs to Phil, it would seem that there should be an apostrophe and an extra S tacked onto the end of Groundhog, doesn’t it? That’s the traditional way to show possession for terms ending in a consonant.
The grammatical oops on this one lies with the folks in Punxsutawney. They named their holiday without an apostrophe, and the name just stuck.
It’s not the only holiday to fall into a grammatical grey area either—Veterans Day is likewise written without an apostrophe, even in government documents.
Back to the basics: What is a groundhog?
Groundhogs are not at all related to hogs, so their compound name is only partially accurate because they do live close to the ground.
The other common name for the marmots is equally confusing. Woodchucks do not chuck or throw around wood, despite the popular tongue twister that queries how much they would if they could. As burrowing rodents, they don’t have much to do with wood or trees at all. In fact, the name woodchuck is an anglicized loanword from the Algonquian word wuchak, which is a Native American language.
And, the name Punxsutawney apparently derives from a Native American name as well. In Unami (a Lenape language), Punkwsutènay translates to “town of the sandflies” or “town of the mosquitoes.” You have to admit, Groundhog Day is a better way for the local chamber of commerce to market the town instead of “Mosquito Capitol of Pennsylvania.”
How often does Phil predict the weather correctly?
Well, The Washington Post actually did some research and concluded that “Even though Phil’s predictions proved correct for some areas of the country, the difference in average temperatures between years he predicted an early spring (times he did not see his shadow) and years he did not (times he saw his shadow) varied by no more than a few degrees.”
So, why do we still celebrate Groundhog Day?
It seems we can thank Bill Murray for this. According to ibtimes.com and HuffPost the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” is seen as the reason behind the day’s continued popularity and celebration. In fact, the day is so popular now that other cities in the US and Canada have their own meteorological rodents. Phil has some competition.