Groundhog Day has always been a very special day for me because it was my grandfathers birthday. I could always remember that day because my grandfather shared his birthday with a national holiday per se. I always wondered about Groundhog Day and what significant it really had to our history. Have you ever wondered where Groundhog Day came from? So one day for my class I thought it would be important for them to know what all the hype was about Groundhog Day. I use to love to teach about history to my children. They would set there trying to put into perspective what it really meant. It was great to listen to how they interpreted the explanation of history. So I thought that it would be great to leave you with a little bit of information on our history so that you could teach your children. I also have some different activities that you can do with preschoolers as well.
n 1723, the Delaware Indians settled Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna Rivers. The town is 90 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, at the intersection of Route 36 and Route 119. The Delaware’s considered groundhogs honorable ancestors. According to the original creation beliefs of the Delaware Indians, their forebears began life as animals in “Mother Earth” and emerged centuries later to hunt and live as men.
The name Punxsutawney comes from the Indian name for the location
“ponksad-uteney” which means “the town of the sandflies.”
The name woodchuck comes from the Indian legend of “Wojak,
the groundhog” considered by them to be their ancestral grandfather.
When German settlers arrived in the 1700s, they brought a tradition known as Candlemas Day, which has an early origin in the pagan celebration of Imbolc. It came at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition held that if the weather was fair, the second half of Winter would be stormy and cold. For the early Christians in Europe, it was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of Winter. A lighted candle was placed in each window of the home. The day’s weather continued to be important. If the sun came out February 2, halfway between Winter and Spring, it meant six more weeks of wintry weather.
According to the old English saying:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until May.
For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
So far will the sun shine before May.
And from America:
If the sun shines on Groundhog Day;
Half the fuel and half the hay.
If the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of Winter. Germans watched a badger for the shadow. In Pennsylvania, the groundhog, upon waking from mid-Winter hibernation, was selected as the replacement.
Pennsylvania’s official celebration of Groundhog Day began on February 2nd, 1886 with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper’s editor, Clymer Freas: “Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.” The groundhog was given the name “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary” and his hometown thus called the “Weather Capital of the World.” His debut performance: no shadow – early Spring.
The legendary first trip to Gobbler’s Knob was made the following year.
The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck (Marmota monax), is a member of the squirrel family. Groundhogs in the wild eat succulent green plants, such as dandelion, clover, and grasses.
According to handlers John Griffiths and Ben Hughes, Phil weighs 15 pounds and thrives on dog food and ice cream in his climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library.
Upon Gobbler’s Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on stage before being pulled out at 7:25 a.m. to make his prediction.
Activities to do with preschoolers
Groundhog Day Chart
After telling the class about the history of Groundhog Day, have them predict if they think he will see his shadow or not and if they will see 6 more weeks of winter or have an early spring. This is a great way to add math and science into your circle time and really gets the children to think. It is also a great way to integrate history and tradition into the class. Chart their responses on big chart paper and hang it in the classroom. On Groundhog Day watch the groundhog day premiere of Punxsutawney Phil so that the children can see if there will be more winter or early spring.
This is a great time to talk about shadows and what they are. Children are sometimes afraid of shadows. With Groundhog day being a day about shadows what better time to explain what a shadow is. Once you explain what shadows are let the children make shadows with their hands. You can show them how to do different animals with their hands. This is a great way to explain shadows for Groundhog Day but as well help a child loose fright over something that they don’t understand.
Groundhog Day Puppets
Make a cut out of a Groundhog and have him come out his burrow when you are telling the story. Then allow the children to make their own. You can find a cut out of a groundhog online. Color it and glue on a popsicle stick. Cut a plate in half and color the plate. This will be his burrow. Once you are telling the story then you can use your puppet to make the story come to life. You can also allow the children to make candles out of paper as they were the first part of Candlemas Day.