Groundhog Day- An old German Tradition in America

Groundhog Day a GERMAN Tradition? Turns out that weather prediction using a burrowing animal on the 2nd of February Candlemas has roots in Germany. The Pennsylvania Dutch German immigrants who landed in America  brought their traditions with them. Of course… a few adjustments had to be made… in Pennsylvania, there were no Badgers, and or Hedgehogs (Igel), so a Groundhog was substituted. (And Bill Murray didn’t play into it….). Weather prediction and looking for Spring goes back hundreds of years in both Christian and pagan traditions. After all… we need to know when it’s time to start the Spring Cleaning!

Groundhog Day A German Tradition?

What do you do when you can’t find a Hedgehog?

groundhog day a german tradition

In the 1600s German farmers started settling in what would become Pennsylvania, USA. They brought German Traditions with them, including, weather prediction.

“Wenn der Igel Lichtmess seinen Schatten sieht,
so Kriecht er wieder auf sechs Wochen ins Loch.”

“If the hedgehog sees his shadow at Candlemas,
He will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.”

What is Groundhog Day?

Using animals to predict the weather…

In the Christian Church, February 2nd it is the celebration of Candlemas, the day that Mary presented her son, Jesus in the Temple. People used to bring the candles to the church for blessing before they would be used for the year, as a reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.  It is a time of light in winter, it sometimes coincides with the beginning of Lent. And for everyone who is tired of the cold and snow, it is a time to wonder how much longer winter will last. No wonder people started to look for ways to predict the coming of spring!

But the practice goes back even further. Originally the day was known as Grundsaudaag or Daxdaag, and goes much deeper than just watching an animal peek out of its hole. In Teutonic (German) and Norse Mythology, Ratatoskr is a squirrel who climbs the “Life Tree”… he travels between the worlds with messages, including weather reports. Because Badgers and Hedgehogs burrows are complicated with many entrances,  it was seen as a reflection or symbol of the entrances to the 9 worlds in Teutonic Myth. When the earliest Germans arrived in Pennsylvania, they looked around for a similar animal to share information about the coming of spring, and there was the Groundhog.

Some oral lore among practitioners of Braucherei and Hexerei, those who follow the old ways of German pagan tradition, assign a wider scope to what the groundhog represents. The Urglaawe tradition interprets that lore as a surviving expression of the ancient Germanic religion… If you are interested in learning more, please visit the Urglaawe website for an explanation.

So… How did German Farmers know if Winter will continue?

German Farmers would use these Bauernregel…..

Bauernregel 1

Farmer Saying/ Rural Expression

Ist’s zu Lichtmess mild und rein
wirds ein langer Winter sein.

If Candlemas is mild and pure,
Winter will be long for sure.

 groundhog day germany

Bauernregeln 2

Rural Saying/ Farmer Expression 2

Wenn’s an Lichtmess
stürmt und schneit,
ist der Frühling nicht mehr weit;
ist es aber klar und hell,
kommt der Lenz wohl nicht so schnell.

If Candlemas brings
wind and snow,
Then spring will very soon show.
But if it’s clear and bright,
Then spring won’t come so right.

The People of Punxsutwaney, PA take it a step further…

groundhog day a german tradition

The town of Punxsutawney, PA is now the center of all Groundhog Day activity.

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania comes alive on February 2nd when the whole town… and a few thousand others… gather to see Phil the Groundhog predict the weather.

According to legend, if the Groundhog Phil sees his shadow, we are in for six more weeks of Winter. If not, we are in for an early spring.

We can thank Clymer Freas, city editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit for making Punxsutawney the epicenter of all Groundhog day celebrating when he first mentioned in 1886 that “up to the time of going to press, the beast has not seen its shadow”.  The following year the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge Groundhog Club started the tradition of heading to Gobbler’s Knob to see what the Groundhog was up to. But they weren’t just there for the weather, they also hunted and ate the Groundhog.

(Apparently Groundhog tastes like a cross between pork and chicken. YIKES!)

The Groundhog feast eventually faded away (thankfully)… but the visit to Gobbler’s Knob continued, and became more ritualistic. Since the release of the film Groundhog Day, the crowd in Punxsutawney has grown from 2000 to over 10,000 visitors. That’s a Lot of Hoopla for a Groundhog.

Maria Lichtmess

Maria lichtmess


The Catholic church celebrates with candle light processions, and all Candles for use in the coming year receive their blessings on this day… which is why it’s called Candlemas.

But in older traditions the significance was important to farmers. This was a time of increased light… and a time to plan for the new farming season. February 2nd, all farm workers were paid for their year of service. They also found out if they would remain in their position, or if they would be sent to find a new one.

And, of course, the weather for the next few weeks would be determined according to the Bauernregel.

A Hedgehog for your Garden.

I have one of these Shoe Cleaning Hedgehogs next to my back door. Not only does he predict weather, he cleans my shoes! (And keeps the kids from tracking mud into the house…)

A hedgehog that cleans shoes? What’s not to like? It’s a pet that doesn’t need feeding!

And he can predict the weather as well as Phil.

Esschert Design Giant Hedge Hog Boot BrushEsschert Design Giant Hedge Hog Boot Brush


If he’s wet… it’s raining
If he’s hot…. the sun is shining
If he’s white… I panic because it really doesn’t snow here!

(The funny thing is… often when new people come to my door, they think it’s real!!)


 Celebrate with cookies!
Igelplätzchen or Hedgehog cookies are a nice snack while watching the weather…
groundhog day



groundhog day a german tradition

9 thoughts on “Groundhog Day- An old German Tradition in America

  1. Okay, this is so interesting. I never knew that Groundhog Day originated in Germany, or that their version of the groundhog was the hedgehog. My daughter has had 2 pet hedgehogs and they are so sweet. They could not live outdoors as they’re very sensitive to cold. However, hers were African pygmy hedgehogs, which I assume are a different type than live in Germany. I do remember when I visited Bavaria in the ’90s, the woman I stayed with told me that hedgehogs in Germany are about as common as squirrels in the US. She did call them Igel. Very interesting!

    1. Isn’t it fun? I love finding out trivia like this

  2. What an amazing bit of German cultural history in America! I never knew! I can’t wait to share this with my little German students in class tomorrow! Thank you so much for sharing this history!

  3. My Pennsylvania German grandmother swore by the groundhog prediction, much to the chagrin of her children. I love it and my household celebrates every year. Friends send me groundhog memes. LOL Thank you for the darling “hedgehog” cookie receipt. My German descent husband was charmed.

    1. I love the old traditions. Tell the kids that at least she didn’t predict weather with an onion… (or did she?)

  4. pfalzersprich wort, an Maria licht mess,sagt man spinne vergess u. am tag nacht gess

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