By Jacob Kinsman
Groundhog Day is an odd day. Every year on a February second we put our trust in a rodent to predict the future. To most, this day is insignificant, but to the Pennsylvania Dutch this day is immensely meaningful.
Every year on Groundhog Day, some Pennsylvania Dutch congregate at a Grundsau Ladsch (Groundhog Lodge) to participate in a Groundhog Day ceremony. The 78 year old tradition has been a cornerstone for the preservation of Pennsylvania Dutch language.
According to the Lynn-Heidelberg Historical Society, In March of 1933 William “Pumpernickel Bill” Troxell, Rev. Thomas Brendel, Dr. Edgar Balliet and Harry Spanuth gathered in Allentown, Pennsylvania to form the first groundhog lodge or “Grundsau ladsch nummer ains an der lechaw” (Groundhog Lodge #1 at the Lehigh River). Due to poor relations with Germany, many Americans were apprehensive about embracing German culture. Thus the lodge was formed with hopes of preserving the Pennsylvania Dutch Language.
The lodges acted separately until 1987 when the Grossdaai Lodge (Grandfather Lodge) was established to increase communication between the independent establishments. Since its creation, the Grossdaai Lodge has assisted affiliated lodges in promoting and preserving Pennsylvania Dutch Heritage. One of the Grandfather Lodges most remarkable achievements is its assistance in developing the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center on Kutztown University of Pennsylvania’s campus.
The Pennsylvania Dutchs’ celebration of Groundhog Day is very spiritual. Meetings begin with the members singing “America”, followed by the pledge of allegiance, a moment of silence, and an opening prayer. After their prayers, members pledge allegiance to “exalted ruler” (the groundhog) and acknowledge their faith in its weather forecasting ability. Next members dine on typical Pennsylvania Dutch cuisines while enjoying small talk and ethnic music. Following dinner, the guests acknowledge each other and business talk is conducted. The groundhog ceremony comes next. Finally, at the conclusion of the ceremony and before dismissal there is one final moment of prayer.
To the outside world, Groundhog Day seems to be nothing more than an extreme weather forecast, but to the Pennsylvania Dutch it symbolizes the preservation of their culture.
For more information about the origins of the Grundsau Ladsch please visit: http://www.lynnheidelberg.org/groundhoglodge.html
The Rohrbach Library also offers a plethora of additional Groundhog day related content:
- Columbia Pictures presents: Groundhog Day, Starring Bill Murray. A comedy about a sarcastic weatherman reliving the worst day of his life over and over again.
- Check-out “Serious Nonsense: groundhog lodges, Versammlinge, and Pennsylvania German heritage” by Professor William Donner of Kutztown University from the Rohrbach library for additional information.
Interestingly enough early ceremonies involved the consumption of our furry forecaster. Read more by Jennisfer Latson at Time.