Learn more about – and enjoy – Groundhog Day with a few outdoor activities and fun facts.
Groundhog Day is celebrated primarily in The United States and Canada, and is a fun way to anticipate the upcoming change of season. It is celebrated on February 2 and — depending on how you feel about the current season — asks the question: When will winter finally end?, or, How much longer do we have to enjoy winter?
According to the lore, whether or not a groundhog sees his shadow will predict if winter will linger or spring will arrive early.
There is no scientific basis to this lore (shadow = longer winter), but it’s a fun opportunity to talk about shadows and enjoy related activities outdoors. Read on to learn more about Groundhog Day with a few outdoor activities and fun facts.
history/legend of groundhog day
February 2 has long been celebrated as the festival of Candlemas, a day when Christians bring their candles to church to be blessed. According to an English folk song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
Thus was born the idea that this date could serve a role in predicting the rest of the season’s weather. When this tradition was brought to Germany, it evolved into a new version of the lore, when a hedgehog or badger’s shadow on February 2 would signal six more weeks of winter weather.
German settlers brought this lore with them to the United States, choosing a groundhog instead (as hedgehogs and badgers are not native/common in the U.S.).
These days, Groundhog Day is synonymous with Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where Groundhog Day events first appeared in newspapers in 1886.
Every year at 6:30 am on the 2nd of February, a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil makes his appearance on Gobbler’s Knob. As he emerges from his den, the presence or absence of his shadow will tell us whether the rest of the winter will be mild or harsh.
If the weather is clear and Phil sees his shadow, he will go back to his burrow and winter will last for 6 more weeks. If the day is cloudy and he sees no shadow, Spring will arrive early.
Phil’s Canadian counterparts include Ontario’s Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam and Quebec’s Fred La Marmotte.
Even if you don’t buy into the validity of Phil’s and Willie’s “predictions” (apparently Phil has only been right about 40% of the time), Groundhog Day is a great excuse to get outside and play with shadows!
outdoor shadow activities
Play shadow tag:
The person who is “it” tries to step on someone else’s shadow, who then becomes “it”. This is a no-contact game!
Trace your shadow:
Trace your shadow at different times of the day (in the snow, mud, or with chalk on your driveway) and see how it changes. Or hop on a bike or scooter and see how you look!
Alternatively, bring a favorite toy or figurine outside and trace its shadow at different times of the day.
Go on a shadow walk:
Take a walk in the woods or around your neighborhood and point out all the shadows you see along the way.
Make shadow puppets:
With the sun behind you, see what shapes you can make with your hands. Can you make your shadow look like an animal?
Then, using your whole body, practice making different letters or numbers. You can also combine your own shadow with objects around you, seeing how many different shapes you can make.
Make a sun dial:
Use a paper plate or draw a circle on a piece of cardboard. In the very center of the plate or circle, tape a pencil, straw, or strand of (uncooked) spaghetti so that it sits upright, completely vertical.
Take your “sundial” out to a sunny and level spot. Draw a line where the shadow falls and write down the current time.
Come back one hour later and mark the line and time once again. Be sure to come out at regular 60-minute intervals (2:12, 3:12, 4:12, etc.). Setting a timer would be a great strategy!
If your spot might soon be shaded, move your sundial to a different location, being careful not to rotate it. (Move it right after your last mark, so you can line it up.)
Make a shadow monster:
Combine your shadow with that of a friend (or two) and make your own shadow monster! How many arms does it have? How many legs can you add?
Fun facts about groundhogs:
Learn more about groundhogs with these fun facts:
- Groundhogs are known my many different names, including: woodchuck, marmot, chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig, whistler, thickwood badger, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk and siffleux. The name “woodchuck” comes from the Algonquin name wuchak, which translates roughly to “digger”.
- Groundhogs are rodents, belonging to a group of ground squirrels named marmots.
- Groundhogs are native to North America.
- Young groundhogs are called chucklings, kits, pups or cubs.
- They have four incisors (front teeth) that grow 1.5mm or 0.0625in per week. They need to use them constantly to prevent them from growing too long.
- When alarmed, they make a high-pitched whistle to warn others. (This is why they are sometimes called “whistlepigs”.)
- Groundhogs hibernate in their burrows for 3-6 months (depending on climate). These burrows can be quite extensive — up to 9 metres (30 feet) in length and on several levels. They can remove up to 2700 kg (3 tons) of dirt when making their homes!
- Although they spend most of the time on (and under) the ground, they can also swim and climb trees.
Groundhog Day may seem silly to some, giving forecasting power to a ground-dwelling mammal… But it’s also a great excuse to get outside and play. This Groundhog Day, enjoy these activities and facts and make this shadow-observing day one to remember!
Check out our Groundhog Day activity pack here.