11 Punxsutawney Phil Facts for Groundhog Day

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Punxsutawney Phil is getting ready to make his Groundhog Day prediction about how much winter we've got left. Here's a closer look at the rodent we trust for weather prognostication.

1. He has been around since 1887.

Punxsutawney Phil with his groundhog inner circle.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Punxsutawney Phil has been in charge of telling us how long winter will wear on (and, conversely, when spring will finally bloom) since 1887, all based on whether or not he sees his shadow on the morning of February 2nd (if he sees his shadow, we're in for six more weeks of winter, if he doesn't, spring will come early). There are no other Phils. There's just the one. No, really.

2. It's "groundhog punch" that keeps him so young.

Punxsutawney Phil with a carrier.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Phil stays so young by way of a magical "Groundhog Punch" that he's fed every summer at the annual Groundhog Picnic (just a sip) that apparently extends his life for another seven years. So even if Phil misses out on six annual sips, he's still good to go with his weather reporting and newsmaking for the time being. That's some magical punch—the kind that foresees potential snags for nearly a full decade.

3. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's inner circle is responsible for Phil.

Groundhog handler John Griffiths holds Punxsutawney Phil in 2012.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Phil obviously can't get his elixir without a little help, which is where the so-called "Inner Circle" comes into play. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle doesn't just hold fast to Phil's meds and administer them to their beloved groundhog; they also take care of Phil for the entire year, plan each year's big ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and sport some truly styling top hats and tuxedos at each ceremony.

4. There are 15 members of the Inner Circle.

Members of Punxsutawney's 'Inner Circle.'
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Inner Circle currently has 15 members (16 if you count Phil himself), including President Bill Deeley, who has been in the circle since 1986. The members all have individual nicknames that vaguely tie into their careers (Tom Dunkel, the so-called "Shingle Shaker," is a roofing contractor) or weather phenomena (there's an "Iceman," a "Big Chill," and even a "Thunder Conductor").

5. Phil lives in the town library.

The town sign of Gobbler's Knob
Eddie~S, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When Phil is not busy predicting the weather at Gobbler's Knob, a rural area about two miles outside of Punxsutawney proper, he lives in the town library.

6. He has a wife, Phyllis.

Wooden groundhog statue
Doug Kerr, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Phil lives in that library with his wife, Phyllis. Yes, Punxsutawney Phil has his own little groundhog wife, and her name is Phyllis. It's almost too adorable to be believed.

7. He's a jetsetter.

Punxsutawney Phil visits New York City in 2001.
Spencer Platt/Newsmakers

Despite enjoying life in the library and doing other groundhog-appropriate things, Phil has done his fair share of traveling over the course of his career. In recent years, he has met big celebrities and public figures like Oprah and President Ronald Reagan.

8. He was reportedly named after "King Phillip."

Punxsutawney Phil with his groundhog inner circle.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

For many years, the groundhog from Punxsutawney was called "Br'er Groundhog," which doesn't quite have the same ring to it. The official Groundhog Club site says that he was named after "King Phillip," but odds are that the actual namesake was the UK's Prince Philip. In 1953, Punxsutawney buried a pair of groundhogs they'd named Elizabeth and Philip, after the newly crowned English queen and her husband. Punxsutawney's famed groundhog was first officially named Phil a few years later in 1961, and records suggest it was a holdover name from the earlier Philip.

9. He speaks groundhogese.

close-up of Punxsutawney Phil
Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Phil speaks a special language—it's called Groundhogese—which is what he uses to communicate his shadow-finding to the Inner Circle President, who then announces it to the world.

10. He was fiercely anti-Prohibition.

Members of Punxsutawney's 'Inner Circle' tap on Punxsutawney Phil's door as they entice him out February 2.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Phil apparently likes more than just his Groundhog Punch: The groundhog quite memorably announced during Prohibition that, if he were kept from drinking the hard stuff, there would be 60 weeks of winter. (But not even Punxsutawney Phil can plunge the world into over a year of winter, desire for booze aside.)

11. His predictions are always correct—just sometimes they're misinterpreted.

Punxsutawney Phil with a carrier.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Phil's batting average for weather predictions isn't exactly the greatest: A record of his findings shows that his shadow-based predictions have only been right about 64.4 percent of the time. (Most recently, he saw his shadow in 2017 and 2018, but both years had record high temperatures for February.) But don't blame Phil!

"Unfortunately, there have been years where the president has misinterpreted what Phil said," retired handler Ron Ploucha told PennLive. "Because Phil's never wrong. Phil's prediction is 100 percent correct, and we blame the variants on the president's interpretation of Phil's prediction."

A version of this article first appeared in 2014.

11 Unusual Christmas Traditions Around the World

A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
R. fiend, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

We all know about the typical trappings of Christmas—Santa, the tree, eggnog and carols, turkey and ham, that fruitcake that’s made three trips around the country and counting. But what about traditions that are generally less well-known in America—the ones that might take place halfway around the world? Traditions like the Swedes watching the same Donald Duck cartoon each year, the Japanese devouring KFC, or Austria’s “bad Santa,” Krampus? Allow us to take you on a journey with the international Christmas traditions below.

1. Sweden // Watching Donald Duck on Television

Every year at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, around half of Sweden sits down to watch the 1958 Walt Disney TV special “From All of Us to All of You.” Known in Swedish as Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul, the title translates to “Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But, really, it’s usually known as Kalle Anka. Since 1959, the show has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time every December 24 on TV1, Sweden’s main public television channel. According to Slate, it’s one of the three most popular TV events each year, and lines of the cartoon’s dialogue have become common Swedish parlance.

Slate’s Jeremy Stahl, who remembers his first Christmas visiting Sweden with his soon-to-be-wife, observes, “I was taken aback not only by the datedness of the clips (and the somewhat random dubbing) but also by how seriously my adoptive Swedish family took the show. Nobody talked, except to recite favorite lines along with the characters." Stahl notes that for many Swedes, other Christmas Eve festivities revolve around watching the show—what time they eat the Christmas meal, for example—and that, although the tradition may seem strange, it also makes some sense: “For many Swedes, there is something comforting about knowing that every year there is one hour, on one day, when you sit down with everyone in your family and just be together.”

2. Venezuela // Roller Skating to Christmas Eve Mass

Roller skates on a wooden background
xavigm/iStock via Getty Images

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, it’s a long-established tradition to strap on your skates and roll on over to morning Christmas mass. According to Metro.co.uk, legend has it that children go to bed with a piece of string tied to their toes, with the other end dangling out the window. As the skaters glide by early the next morning, they give the strings a firm tug to let the children know it’s time to wake up and put on their skates. Firecrackers accompany the sound of the church bells, and when mass is finished, everyone gathers for food, music, and dance. The custom continues today.

3. Japan // Eating KFC on Christmas Eve

A KFC in Japan at Christmas
A KFC in Japan at Christmas
Robert Sanzalone, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Christmas isn't a widely celebrated holiday in Japan—a mere 1 percent of Japanese people are estimated to be Christian—and yet a bucket of KFC “Christmas Chicken” is the popular meal on December 24. According to the BBC, 3.6 million families celebrated this way in 2016.

It all began with a 1974 marketing campaign—“Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii” (Kentucky for Christmas). According to Smithsonian, when a group of foreigners couldn’t find Christmas turkey and opted for KFC instead, the company saw it as a fabulous marketing opportunity and advertised its first Christmas meal—chicken and wine for the equivalent of $10, which, Smithsonian notes, was rather pricey for the mid-'70s. These days, the Christmas dinner includes cake and champagne, and costs roughly $40. Many people order their meals far in advance to avoid lines; those who forget can end up waiting for as long as two hours.

4. Ukraine // Decorating the Tree with (Fake) Spiders and Webs

A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
Marty Gabel, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to Ukrainian folklore, there was a poor family with a widowed single mother who couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree. One night, as they all slept, a wonderful Christmas spider decorated the tree with a beautiful, sparkly web. The rays of the sun touched the web, turning it to silver and gold, and from that day on the family wanted for nothing. Ukrainian families decorate their trees with glittering spiders and their webs in honor of the tale.

5. Guatemala // La Quema del Diablo, “Burning the Devil”

Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Conred Guatemala, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Every December 7, beginning at 6 p.m. sharp, Guatemalans build bonfires to “burn the devil” and kick off their Christmas season. The tradition has particular significance in Guatemala City, according to National Geographic, due to its association with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which honors the city’s patron saint. The tradition evolved from simply lighting bonfires during colonial times to burning a devil figure to clear the way for a celebration of the Virgin Mary. In recent years, devil piñatas have been added to the festivities, too. These days, an estimated 500,000 bonfires burn in the course of an hour on the holiday, and fireworks explode across the smoky sky.

6. Catalonia // Caganer, the Pooping Christmas Figurine

A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
J2R/iStock via Getty Images

A regular figure in Catalonian nativity scenes, the caganer is a bare-bottomed man with his pants around his knees as he bends over to poop. He typically wears a white shirt and a barretina, a traditional Catalan hat. The caganer most likely first appeared in nativity scenes in the early 18th century; nativity scenes in the region typically represent pastoral scenes with depictions of rural life. The caganer often appears crouched behind a tree or a building in a corner of the nativity. Caganer literally means “pooper” in Catalan, and no one is certain of his significance, though one theory is that he represents good luck and the wish for a prosperous new year, since the pooping could be construed as the fertilization of the earth. Another theory is that he represents the mischief that resides in all of us. Yet another theory: he could merely represent humility and humanity. After all, everyone poops.

7. Wales // Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare”

Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare,” is the name given to the ghostly looking horse figure often brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales. Typically constructed of a horse skull, a white sheet, and adorned with colorful ribbons and bells, the Mari Lwyd is carried around Welsh towns by singing revelers who challenge their neighbors to a battle of wits through poetry. Atlas Obscura explains that despite often being associated with Christmas, Mari Lwyd is actually a pre-Christian practice, and some Welsh towns choose instead to parade their horse skulls on other days, such as Halloween or May Day. However, the Christmas season is the most popular time for Mari Lwyd, and the practice often includes wassailing, which involves the drinking of a boozy, sugared-and-spiced ale.

8. Austria and German-speaking Alpine region // Krampus, the Christmas Devil

Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day
Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day in Italy
dario_tommaseo/iStock via Getty Images

While well-behaved children in Austria and elsewhere look forward to St. Nicholas rewarding them with presents and sweets, those on the naughty list live in fear of Krampus. Part demon and part goat, Krampus is a “bad Santa” devil-like figure with origins in pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Later, Krampus became a part of Christian traditions alongside the celebrating of St. Nick. During Krampusnacht, or “Krampus night,” right before St. Nicholas Day, adults dress up as Krampus, and Krampus might also be seen on a Krampuslauf—literally a “Krampus run.” He also appears on Christmas cards throughout Austria, and enjoys a long-held place in the country’s holiday traditions, as well as in other German-speaking areas near the Alps.

9. Iceland // The Yule Cat

Iceland has its own frightening Christmas figure, the Yule cat, which lurks in the snow and waits to devour anyone who has not received new clothes to wear for Christmas. National Geographic did some digging into the origins of this tradition, and notes that in Icelandic rural societies employers often rewarded members of their households with new clothes and sheepskin shoes each year as a way to encourage everyone to work hard in the lead-up to Christmas. “To this day Icelanders still find it important to wear new clothes on Christmas Eve when the celebrations begin,” the website writes. So, basically, the Yule cat punishes the lazy by devouring them, though, as National Geographic observes, “According to some tales, the Yule Cat only eats their food and presents, not the actual people.” Whew!

10. Greenland // Whale Blubber Dinner

Although women around the world have often traditionally prepared the Christmas meal, in Greenland the men serve the women. The main dish is mattak, strips of whale blubber, as well as kiviak, flesh from auks buried in sealskin for several months and then served once it begins to decompose. Dessert is a little more familiar: Christmas porridge garnished with butter, cinnamon, and sugar.

11. Italy // Befana, the Christmas Witch

Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
corradobarattaphotos, iStock via Getty Images

Like Austria’s Krampus, Italy’s Christmas witch, Befana, is scary-looking—she has the warts and the sharp nose of the typical witch depiction—and yet every January 5 she leaves gifts and sweets for the good children. Of course, she also leaves coal for the naughty ones. According to legend, she swoops up the particularly bad children and brings them home to her child-eating husband. According to Vice, Italy honors Befana with festivals each year, complete with market stalls, raffles, games, and prizes. Children also write letters to Befana just as they do to Santa Claus.

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