Some people here in this future world have wondered whether I had any direct knowledge of the Groundhog Day tradition.
I regret to say that I do not. Aside from the fact that I published a German-American newspaper in the colonies, beginning in 1732, I did not have anything to do with this quaint custom. Actually, it did not even become popular until about 1841 – a considerable time after my days in Philadelphia.
What is the German-American connection? Brad Hart, a writer more familiar with this event than myself, has apparently summarized its history quite nicely, and posted the information on the internet at http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/02/where-did-groundhog-day-come-from.html
To make a long story short, Groundhog Day has its roots in Candlemas, an ancient Christian observance that also intersects with the Celtic celebration of Imbolc, as well as the belief in Brigid, the Celtic goddess of healing and wisdom.
Celts believed that Brigid would “bring the first stirrings of spring and liberate society from the clutches of harsh winter. It was through animals (usually a badger or a bear) that the will of Brigid was made manifest, which is why people would gather in almost every village to see if these ‘holy animals’ would emerge or not,” explains Mr. Hart.
When the Germans (referred to somewhat inaccurately as “Pennsylvania Dutch”) came to this land, they brought with them their customs, including Candlemas. And since groundhogs were more numerous in Pennsylvania than badgers, it was this particular furry creature that became the leading weather prognosticator of this unique tradition.
There’s even a song that was popular in New England in the 18th century, which told of the Candlemas belief:
As the light glows longer,
the cold grows stronger.
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas be cloud and snow,
Winter will be gone and not come again.
Now, add to this the fact that the Delaware Indians revered the groundhog as a sacred animal (they felt it was the ancestral grandfather of their tribe!), and you can see how these various customs may have become intertwined, just as the various cultures (Celtic, German, native American) intermingled with and had an effect on each other. For a native American blog on this subject, go to http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/02/02/groundhog-days-native-american-roots-95391
And so, that is my account of the Groundhog. I only share this because of my own deep affection for another similar creature, the squirrel or “skugg,” on which I have written (or “blogged”) previously at http://benfranklinexclusive.weebly.com/1/post/2013/08/squirrel-lover-ben.html .
Your humble servant,