What is Groundhog Day anyway?

2 February 2024, 06:00

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (1993)
Bill Murray starred in the 1993 film, Groundhog Day, but what is the day about? Picture: AA Film Archive/Alamy Stock Photo
Radio X

By Radio X

The iconic 90s film starring Bill Murray is a cult classic, but how much do you know about the bizarre real-life tradition which inspired it?

February 2nd is Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray fans across the world celebrate the 1993 film of the same name. But did you know the cult classic was actually based on a tradition spanning from 1840?

Or that the film itself wasn't even released on 2nd February?

Groundhog Day (1993) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Before Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell even existed, Groundhog Day was a popular tradition celebrated in the US and Canada on 2nd February every year. 

It comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on the day sees a shadow due to clear weather, it will return to its den and winter will last for six more weeks. But if the groundhog doesn't see its shadow due to cloudy weather, it's believed that spring will arrive early that year.

We know, it sounds insane right?

Jim Means holds up Punxy Phil, at daybreak on Groundhog Day in 1980.
Jim Means holds up Punxy Phil, at daybreak on Groundhog Day in 1980. Picture: AP Photo/Lucas/Alamy Stock Photo

While the earliest mention of Groundhog Day is believed to come from a diary entry by James L. Morris of Morgantown, Pennsylvannia in 1840, the first official observance of the tradition in the state seems to have occurred in Punxsutawney in 1887, seeing a group head to the Gobbler's Knob part of town to consult the beast.

People have gone on to celebrate Groundhog Day in Pennsylvannia ever since, where crowds as large as 40,000 have been known to gather in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to consult the animal, who is of course known as Punxsutawney Phil.

Sam Light, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, together with a stuffed Punxy Phil, breaks the bad news in February 1961.
Sam Light, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, together with a stuffed Punxy Phil, breaks the bad news in February 1961. Picture: AP Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

Between us, Punxsutawney Phil isn't actually the same groundhog... because if he was, he'd be about 131. 

However, we can't give this wacky tradition too much credit for standing the test of time, since much of its popularity can be put down to the movie itself.

Bill Murray, Andy MacDowell and Chris Elliott in Groundhog Day
Bill Murray, Andy MacDowell and Chris Elliott in Groundhog Day. Picture: AJ Pics/Alamy

After Bill Murray graced the big screen as Phil the weatherman in 1993, attendance of the ceremony rose from about 2,000 to 10,000 the next year.Groundhog Day is of course observed in other locations in Pennsylvannia, as well as New York, Texas, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

In fact, Groundhog Day has even been reported to be observed in zoos across Russia. 

READ MORE: Bill Murray's 10 best movies of all time

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