On this day in 1887, the first Groundhog Day (as we know it today) was celebrated at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. A newspaper editor belonging to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club (a group of groundhog hunters) declared Phil, Punxsutawney’s groundhog, to be the only true weather predicting rodent in America. Tradition states that if Phil sees his shadow he will retreat back into his hole and there will be six more weeks of winter. He will then be the most loathed creature in America. The year prior, in 1886, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, which was then known as the Punxsutawney Black Bear Club (guess what they hunted) tried to hold a celebration on the same principles. Unfortunately, instead of seeing his shadow after emerging from hibernation, the bear known as Punxsutawney Carl saw the seven sportsman gathered outside his den and gave them all good mauling. The group changed its name the following day and decided to hunt a slightly easier prey. *Note: Gobbler’s Knob is named after Thomas Myron Gobbler, who lost his arm to Carl, leaving only a knob in its place.
America is not the only country to celebrate this holiday. For instance, Russia used to hold a similar Groundhog Day celebration, but that all changed when Vladimir Putin became acting President on December 31, 1999. Putin, using intelligence he had gathered during his time in the KGB, formed a case against the Moscow Marmot, resulting in his banishment to a Siberian labor camp. It is said that the Moscow Marmot befriended an aging COL Bananapants (for more information read here) who helped him finally get over his fear of shadows. As for Groundhog Day in Russia currently, it is celebrated by Putin riding a pure white horse while shirtless through the streets of Moscow. Citizens of Moscow are expected to emerge from their homes to witness the “parade”, but may not look directly at their President. Instead they must only gaze at his shadow because if they were to inadvertently make eye contact with him, he would “make sure that winter never ended for them.”
On a final note, there have been 54 Punxsutawney Phil’s since the first Groundhog Day in 1887. The tradition of the U.S. President pardoning the Thanksgiving Turkey actually started with the pardoning of the Punxsutawney Phil, as he was typically killed and eaten if his weather prediction were incorrect. This tradition was stopped when local meteorologist began getting similar threats.