Upwards of 25,000 people brave the cold of an early February morning to catch a glimpse of this rather famous rodent and watch his annual weather prediction.
Without a doubt, Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney is one of the most fun and unique events that I’ve ever visited in all of my travels. The absolute absurdity of the event’s premise and the atmosphere around the town make for a simply amazing event that certainly won’t disappoint.
So, whether a visit to Punxsutawney has been on your PA bucket list for years or you’ve just started thinking of attending the event, here’s everything you need to know to make sure you get the most out of your time at Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA.
Note: Groundhog Day in 2021 will be a fully virtual event and no guests will be allowed at Gobbler’s Knob. Hopefully, things will return to normal in 2022.
The History of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
As with most absurd events, the history of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney is shrouded in lore and deciphering truth from myth can be difficult.
Groundhog Day likely has a basis in the European Christian holiday of Candlemas Day, which was on February 2nd. On this day, people would take their candles to church to have them blessed in hopes of blessings for their household for the rest of winter.
As happens with holidays, lore began to creep into this religious holiday. One popular English folk song of the time period included these lyrics:
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
When Europeans began to settle in Pennsylvania, they brought many of their traditions with them. The Germans that settled in PA were particularly religious, and Candlemas Day came with them to the New World as a tradition.
According to lore, the Germans also brought with them another Candlemas tradition: weather predictions by animals. In Germany, people would refer to the badger as the animal whose shadow they would look for. However, since badgers can’t be found in southeastern Pennsylvania, they opted for the next best thing: the groundhog.
The first mention of Groundhog Day in the Americas is from a diary of a settler in Morgantown, Pennsylvania on February 2, 1840. However, it wasn’t until 1886 that this tradition was first mentioned in a publication: the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper.
Today, 1887 is recognized as the first Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA. That makes this tradition over 130 years old. And, if you believe the tales of the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, it’s been the same groundhog giving the prediction every year since: Punxsutawney Phil.
What Happens on Groundhog Day?
Groundhog Day is held at Gobbler’s Knob, a field a little under two miles outside of downtown Punxsutawney, PA. The gates to the grounds open at 3am. No tickets are required as Groundhog Day is a free event.
From 3am until approximately 7:20am, a party happens at Gobbler’s Knob. While no alcohol is allowed into the event or sold there, the atmosphere is still festive (likely because people need to move and dance to keep from getting too cold or falling asleep).
For the four and a half hours leading up to Phil’s prognostication, performers entertain the crowds of people gathering in the field.
Shortly after sunrise, Phil’s Inner Circle make their procession onto the stage at Gobbler’s Knob. After a few words, Punxsutawney Phil is brought out of his temporary burrow to the cheers of the thousands that have gathered.
According to lore, Phil speaks to the president of the Groundhog Club in “groundhogese,” a language spoken by groundhogs that only the president of the club knows.
Phil then directs the Inner Circle to read one of two pre-prepared scrolls.
The scrolls that are read typical consists of a short poem, which includes Phil’s pronouncement of whether he sees his shadow (six more weeks of winter) or doesn’t (we’ll have an early spring).
Once Phil’s weather prediction is read, things close up fairly quickly, though the party continues throughout the day in downtown Punxsutawney with chances to meet Phil and to tour some of the local museums.
If you can’t make it to Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day, the event is typically aired on both the Weather Channel and, within PA, on PCN. There is also a live stream of the event provided each year by visitPA.
Tips for Visiting Punxsutawney, PA’s Groundhog Day Festivities
Arrive Early at Gobbler’s Knob
Gates at Gobbler’s Knob open to the public at 3am on the morning of Groundhog Day. I made the mistake of figuring that a 5am arrival time would be okay. I mean, how many people would get there super early? Phil wasn’t even coming out until 7:30am.
The answer is a lot.
When I arrived at 5am, I would estimate that at least 10,000 people were already partying away at the Knob. This was despite the constant drizzle and quickly developing mud that made conditions less than ideal.
The good news is that there is a lot of fun entertainment on the stage to keep you excited and moving until the main event.
It’s also worth noting that public parking is located in and around downtown Punxsutawney, close to two miles away from Gobbler’s Knob. Shuttles take visitors from the parking area up to the knob, but you need to make sure to leave plenty of time to get from your vehicle up to the prognostication area.
Bottom line: if you want to get a close view of the morning’s events, get there as close to 3am as possible.
Buy Your Punxsutawney Phil Merchandise Early
When I first arrived at Gobbler’s Knob, I noticed a lot of people wearing ridiculously awesome groundhog hats, scarves, and beanies. It didn’t take long before I really wanted one as well.
While there are some souvenirs for sale at Gobbler’s Knob (cash is best), getting them in town is better as the selection tends to be a bit more robust. Plus, as it gets closer to the end of the event, merchandise can become a bit more limited.
If you want to shop early, you can get Groundhog Day memorabilia in town the day before, and there are typically places open all night before the event.
Visit the Attractions in Punxsutawney, PA
While most of the visitors to Punxsutawney come to see Phil’s prediction and then leave, that’s a major mistake in my opinion. After all, there are a lot of fun things to do in town that will help you forget how tired you really are.
Personally, I really enjoyed popping into the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Headquarters. While there isn’t a lot to see, it’s still interesting to check out the memorabilia from past Groundhog Days. If you’re lucky, a member of the Inner Circle might even be there to answer any questions you might have.
It’s also worth checking out the Punxsutawney Historical Society’s museum at the Bennis and Lattimer House. Occupying two facing buildings on opposite sites of West Mahoning Street, the museum details what life was like for residents of Punxsutawney both before and after European settlement. The museum provides a great glimpse into the region that goes beyond the typical Groundhog Day lore.
Another great spot in town is the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center, which features interactive weather exhibits that are perfect for the entire family. The center is also home to the Weather Hall of Fame which honors a different person every Groundhog Day.
It’s also a fun experience to simply walk through downtown Punxsutawney and see the many vendors and activities going on in the town square. Keep an eye out for the many statues of Phil around town, as well as his burrow on the outside of the town’s library (Phil won’t be there, but you might be able to see his wife, Phyllis).
There are also many events happening throughout Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day including chances to meet Phil, special breakfasts, and other great forms of entertainment.
For those looking for events outside of typical Groundhog Day festivities, don’t miss annual highlights like the Groundhog Wine Trail Festival and the Groundhog Ball.
Of course, there are also many great things to do throughout Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, if you are looking to spend some time in the area.
Dress Appropriately for Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney
While Punxsutawney might be the self-proclaimed “Weather Capital of the World”, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a gander at a weather report before heading out for Groundhog Day. After all, early February in Pennsylvania can be quite cold, especially at night.
This is even more true because you’ll likely be standing in one place for up to five hours while waiting to see Punxsutawney Phil. Therefore, make sure that you give some serious thought to what you are going to wear well before you head out the door.
Embrace the Absurdity of It All
Groundhog Day is a great event, and you’re almost guaranteed to have a good time. However, if you really want to enjoy yourself, make sure you go into it with a full dose of imagination.
After all, how else will you fully enjoy the experience of seeing a 130-year old groundhog predicting the weather to a bunch of men in tuxedos?
Groundhog Day is meant to be a ridiculous event. If you don’t accept and embrace the absurdity of the whole thing, you’ll never fully enjoy yourself.
For more information on Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, check out the Groundhog Club’s website.
Other Celebrations of Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania
Believe it or not, Punxsutawney is not the only place in PA the celebrates Groundhog Day.
Quarryville in Lancaster County also has their own Groundhog Day celebration at the Slumbering Groundhog Lodge. However, rumor has it that their groundhog, Octoraro Orphie, is actually stuffed.