The Truth About Groundhog Day's Inner Circle

We all know how it goes, especially if you're a resident of the United States or Canada. With roots in Christian, ancient Celtic, and even possibly ancient Roman traditions, the first Groundhog Day was celebrated at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, according to History. Since then, a groundhog's reaction to its own shadow is used every February 2 as a barometer for how much longer winter might last. If the animal sees its shadow and dives for cover, then we're in for colder weather. Anything else from the animal means that spring might come faster than expected. 

But who are the men that administer the ceremony and wear the similar outfits as those who began it all back in 1887? No, this is not some shadowy cabal of groundhog breeders. Instead, this tuxedo-wearing, top-hatted group who perform this annual rite of seasonal observance are called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, or the Inner Circle of Groundhog Day, according to Smithsonian Magazine. This civic society has remained intact since it all began in the late 19th century, and they even claim the same groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil has participated in the ceremony ever since it started.

The Inner Circle is made up of volunteers

Of course, it isn't the same groundhog that gives us its prediction for how quickly seasons might change from winter to spring, nor has the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, or the Inner Circle of Groundhog Day, stayed the same since 1887. The Groundhog Club is made up of 15 residents of Punxsutawney, who adopt Masonic-like pseudonyms and pledge to keep the Groundhog Day tradition alive in the area, as Smithsonian Magazine reports.

Otherwise, these top-hatted men, with names like "Big Chill," "Rainman," and most menacingly, "Iceman," are teachers, dentists, and chiropractors, performing the same ritual their forebears performed many decades earlier, according to the official Punxsutawney Phil Groundhog Club. Despite their protestations, it's generally believed they have their forecast settled in advance, no matter what Phil's reaction happens to be. Despite the German legend from which Groundhog Day is partially inspired, the handlers do not necessarily wait around for Phil to see his shadow, but determine the forecast beforehand, and then they simply announce it on Gobbler's Knob, as the Pittsburgh Evening Sun reports.