Groundhog Day’s Pennsylvania German Connection

Happy Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil apparently saw his shadow this morning, so batten down the hatches for another 6 weeks of chilly weather.

Groundhog Day PA DutchThis annual tradition has a couple of connections to the Penn. Dutch.  First, there happens to be a sizable Amish settlement in Clearfield County in the vicinity of Punxsutawney, PA (1,000+ people).  I don’t know of any groundhog-related customs associated with this settlement (but maybe there’s a Baked Amish Groundhog ‘n’ Butter Noodles recipe I haven’t heard about?) so I think that is basically geographical coincidence.

Groundhog Day does have an interesting back story connected with Pennsylvania German society though:

Groundhog Day has origins in 18th-century Pennsylvania German culture. The custom’s roots supposedly reach even further to Europe, where there was a tradition of making weather predictions based on animal behavior, that of the badger in particular. A later development was the Groundhog (Grundsow) Lodge…

Read more about Grundsow Lodges and groundhogs.

Photo credit: groundhog.org

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    16 Comments

    1. Richard from Amish Stories

      Never mind Punxsutawney Phil, meet Lebanon counties very own Uni

      Erik since we are talking about ground hogs i found out that Lebanon county has a local tradition so i thought id post some info from the local newspaper today on the national day, his name is Uni and i will e-mail you a picture of the little guy…………..Groundhog Day ceremony Thursday morning along the shore of the Tulpehocken Creek, next to Route 501 in Myerstown.
      That’s where Uni, the lodge’s mascot, will be brought by his handler, Leon Lutz.

      “He’s under lock and key,” Seiverling said last week, when asked about Uni’s whereabouts.

      Schoener described Uni as “the only patriotic Christian groundhog.”

      Uni is patriotic because he holds an American flag.

      As for his religion, that came about somewhat by accident a couple years ago.

      “We baptized him a couple years ago,” Schoener said, recalling the fateful day when Uni’s canal boat capsized in the creek, dunking the beloved mascot in the chilly waters.

      Uni survived unscathed and will venture back into the creek as long as his handlers can lower his boat safely. There have been years when ice or snow along the creek bank made that impossible.

      In addition to enjoying their heritage, the men of the lodge are doing their best to preserve the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.

      Schoener spent several years teaching Pennsylvania Dutch in night classes at Elco High School.

      “Even the plain folk have lost it,” Schoener said, referring to the Amish, “but not the Old Order. The Old Order still speak it.”
      Richard

    2. Alice Mary

      Woodstock, IL had different result!

      In Woodstock, IL (about a 30 min. drive from my home), where the Groundhog Day movie was filmed, they have been having annual Groundhog Day festivities ever since the movie’s production took place in town. THEIR groundhog, it was reported on the radio a while ago, did NOT see his shadow, so we’re supposed to have an early spring. (It’s been spring-like a good part of this winter—it was 57 degrees two days ago!) I’m still hoping for more snow, for agricultural purposes.

      May you all have an “appropriately-timed” Spring this year.

      Hey, Erik—any such traditions in Poland?

      Alice Mary

      1. I have never heard of one Alice Mary. But maybe there is a similar potato or beet-oriented custom that I’m not aware of 😉

    3. Punxsutawney Phil

      I have a soft spot for good old Punxsutawney Phil, despite the other groundhogs that have popped up in recent years. I think the tradition of forecasting weather from animal behavior is common to most Pennsylvania German/Swiss immigrants, including the Amish. And in our area of rural Pennsylvania, we believe in the forecasting abilities of the wooly bear caterpiller to tell us whether it’s going to be a hard winter!

    4. Richard from Amish Stories

      Lebanon counties very own "Uni"

      Nice going Erik with posting our very own “little Uni of Lebanon,Pa “, and as i told you in an e-mail the little guy likes to eat wood so he almost drowned eating his own little boat,lol. I made that one up but it sure sounded kind of cute, but ill still never going sailing with him again! Richard

    5. Margaret

      I always have to make a “Groundhog Supper” on Feb. 2, for my husband!

      When we lived in western Kansas all the local churches had a groundhog supper during the first week of February each year as fund-raisers. We could go out to eat every night of the week at a different church, if we wanted (and could handle all that sausage!). Sausage patties, sausage gravy with biscuits or mashed potatoes, and lots and lots of pies! Good memories for sure!

      I already know my husband is planning on watching “Groundhog Day” this evening — while eating his sausage supper! :0)

    6. Tom

      Spring, I thought it was already spring, lol This has been one of the best or worst winters, depending on your taste of winter in recent memory. Here in my neck of the woods it has been a steady diet of 50’s, 60’s, and the occasional 70 degree day, which has already turned the yard back green and some plants have started to bloom. Given the average for this time of year is supposed to be 39 degrees, I really cannot complain as today it is 60 degrees again.

    7. Richard from Amish Stories

      More information on little Uni !

      Erik I’ve just found out from a totally un-reliable source that little Uni has a reputation of being a lady’s man, and he also loves the TV show Bonanza. His diet is made up mostly of wood products for some reason, so when folks invite him over their home’s for a visit they just burn all of the furniture since he will end-up eating it all anyway. An Amish wood shop owner made the mistake of letting him inside to make a phone call, and when the Amish man returned all of his stock was cleaned out. Sadly he went out of business 3 days later! Richard

    8. Eli S

      I didn’t know that a woodchuck would chuck wood!

    9. Valerie

      Am I dreaming?

      Or is this topic for real! Actually, very interesting article & posts. I didn’t get into Groundhogs Day until I moved to OH, & in CA it was NOTHING to run to the t.v. to find out the verdict!
      I hate to admit this almost, and I don’t even watch t.v. generally, but I LOVE the movie Groundhogs Day (don’t cast me out!)
      because the guy starts out so arrogant & conceited in beginning of the movie & turns into great guy at the end-I watch it every Groundhog’s Day-(blush) and everyone I know thinks its the stupidest movie (which I did too until I really watched it once.)

      We have a Wooly Bear Festival by Lake Erie in OH, but Ohio celebrates everything including garlic

    10. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Let’s not forget Wiarton Willy, Ontario Canada’s furry prognosticator.
      I think it said six more weeks, even though a lot of southern Ontario is without snow right now.

    11. ER Patterson

      Punxsy, PA

      Punxsutawney is located in Jefferson County, PA (not Clearfield County). The Smicksburg Amish Settlement is the closest Amish settlement to Punxsy (how locals abbreviate the name). It is the 4th largest Amish settlement in PA and the 12th largest in the U.S. About 2,300 Amish live in the 18 church districts.

      The Smicksburg Amish probably take an interest in Punxsutawney Phil but they do not celebrate the event and were not responsible for its establishment in the area. The event dates from the late 1880s. The Smicksburg Amish did not settle in the area until early 1960s when they moved here from Ohio. The Smicksburg settlement always seems to be under the radar whenever people think about PA
      Amish settlements, but it is a nice area well worth visiting.

      1. Smicksburg (Indiana County) and Clearfield County Amish and Punxsutawney

        We are talking about 2 different settlements. Yes Punxsutawney is in Jefferson County though 80% of the households in the Amish settlement in Clearfield County which I am referring to here have Punxsutawney mailing addresses. It is referenced by that town name in at least one Amish resource (even though a settlement is mainly in one county it may be referenced by a town located in an adjacent county; this community is also referenced by the town of Troutville in places such as Raber’s Almanac).

        However the larger Smicksburg or Indiana County settlement you are referring to has majority Smicksburg addresses and few from Punxsutawney (though technically yes it looks like it has households closer to the town of Punxsutawney). In reality they are both in the orbit of Punxsy though the community you are referring to is more commonly described as you do here as the Smicksburg (or Indiana County) settlement.

        The Clearfield Co community I mention here might in fact be best described as Troutville area though the majority of letters sent to Amish here are going to Punxsutawney addresses. What to call Amish settlements can be confusing and there is probably a legitimate claim to both being called “Punxsutawney Amish” if we had to, though in reality both are probably referred to more commonly by different names. However any excuse for me to use one of my favorite town names in referring to an Amish settlement will be taken, especially on Groundhog Day! 😉 Thanks for the comment, the Smicksburg settlement has been on my list of PA communities to visit for awhile now but haven’t quite made it.

        1. ER Patterson

          When the Smicksburg Amish Settlement was first established it was commonly referred to as the Punxsutawney Settlement, I believe even the first Amish here may have called it that. Over time the Smicksburg name became more commonly used, especially as it became more of a tourist attraction. What is locally called the Smicksburg settlement is mainly in Indiana and Armstrong Counties about 10 miles southwest of Punxsy. There are a few other smaller break away settlements in the area, surrounding Punxsy. There is an Amish Wedding Feast in Smicksburg every month at a local non-Amishh business. Ironically, the Amish made food for the feast comes from one of the breakaway settlements and not the Smicksburg Amish. There are quite few Amish home businesses, a cheese co-op, sawmills and they do local contracting.