The History of Groundhog Day
On February 2nd, the groundhog comes out of his hole to take a look. If he sees his shadow, he will crawl back into his home for another six weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, then winter is over. At least that is how the legend goes.
The basis of the tradition is thought to stem from rhymes about the religious observance of Candlemas, or the purification of the Virgin Mary. Despite the source of the rhyme, there is no religious connection to the ritual gathering about the holes of groundhogs to see if they observe a shadow. Here is one of these rhymes:
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again.
The reliance on an animal to determine the end of winter comes out of Germany, as well as England and Scotland. In Germany, the badger was the creature capable of predicting the weather and the end of the winter season. Finding no such animals in the new world, the groundhog was chosen as the substitute.
Although groundhogs throughout the country are the subject of gatherings and news stories on February 2nd, prince of the day is Punxsutawney Phil, who resides in Puxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Games and Activities
This is a traditional game full of running, excitement, and fun.You will need:
- a sunny day
- a large open area for running
- one object that casts a large shadow into the playing field
- a small group of players
All that is needed is three or more players, a large open area on a sunny day with one object which casts a large shadow somewhere in the playing area. A tree in a field, a shed in a back yard, or a large slide at a playground work nicely.
The object of the game is for the person who is "It" to step on the shadow of another player. If "It" successfully steps on someone else's shadow then the caught player becomes "It" and the person who was "It" now tries to keep his shadow from being stepped upon.
Base is the shadow of the large object. When a player stands in the shadow of the large object his shadow disappears and can not be seen. Therefore his shadow can not be stepped upon until he leaves the shadow of the large object.
A creative outdoor group activityYou will need:
- a sunny day
- a large cemented or blacktop area outside (such as a driveway or basketball court, usually a sidewalk is not large enough)
- sidewalk chalk
- at least 2 people (the more people the sillier the shadows)
One person selects a piece of chalk. All the other people work together to create a silly shadow. They can bend, twist, and interlock their bodies to make shadow animals, objects, designs, or whatever they wish. Once they have a shadow they like, they stay as still as possible while the person in charge of the chalk traces around the shadow.
Once the shadow has been traced everyone can stand back to admire it. The chalk person then gives the chalk to someone who has not had a turn to chalk and the shadow creations continue.
If you only have a sidewalk or small space available for shadow tracing, use the players hands and feet only to create the shadow.
Shadow Play for a Cloudy DayYou will need:
- one sheet of colored construction paper per person
- a dark crayon or water color marker per person
- one lamp which focuses intense light into one area, such as a desk lamp or spotlight
- varieties of small objects such as cups, balls, books, stuffed or plastic toys, etc.
Lay the construction paper in the light of the lamp. Select one small object and place it so that its shadow is cast upon the paper. Trace around the object's shadow. Repeat this with other objects, rotating the paper as you work if you choose, until a pleasing picture or design is created.Variations:
1. Cut out the different shadows you have created. Glue them down onto another sheet of construction paper with a contrasting color to make a shadow collage or scene.
2. Turn this into a science lesson by asking children to create as many different shaped shadows with one object as they can. What makes the shadow change shape?
If they leave the object in the same position can they make the shadow it casts longer or shorter by changing the position of the light? (A flashlight works well for this.)
Have children partner up. Each child traces shadows of different objects. Then the partners exchange papers. Can each child guess what objects their partner used to create the pictures? Can they also figure out what position the object was in when the shadow was traced?
3. Use playdough or clay to make a sculpture or figure. Place the clay figure so it casts a shadow onto the construction paper. Trace around its shadow. Change the figure’s position and trace its shadow anew. Continue this until an interesting picture is created. Color in the traced shadows if you choose.
- The Official Site of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club - includes an excellent history of the holiday tradition.
- PunxsutawneyPhil.com has a great collection of pictures in the photo gallery.
- A fun site about groundhogs - maintained by Jason Patton.
- Fermilab Flora and Fauna - Woodchuck site - Did you know the groundhog is a member of the squirrel family? Find out more about groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, at this nice site.
Books for Children
- The Story of Punxsutawney Phil - "The Fearless Forecaster", by Julia Spencer Moultran, Ph.D. and Illustrated by Marsha Lewis Dubnansky, ISBN 0-961-17819-2-0. It is a delightful tale of the groundhog's winter stay at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, PA - from the perspective of Punxsutawney Phil (amazon.com has it along with the audio cassette).
- Gregory's Shadow by Don Freeman - a gentle story about a groundhog who loses his shadow. Reunited later he must still solve the problem of wanting to be with his shadow friend and pleasing the farmers who want spring to come with no shadow on February second. Nice for children ages 2-8. (amazon.com has it).
- Me and My Shadows - Shadow Puppet Fun for Kids of All Ages by Elizabeth Adams - This book has lots of ways to create shadows of creatures and figures of all sorts. Fun for ages 5 and up. (amazon.com has it).