A Look Back in History: The PA Dutch Groundhog Work-Ethic Cycle

A rare photograph of the “Grundsau” (Groundhog) Lodge Number “Ains” (One) taken along the Lehigh River. The Groundhog brother on the left in the front holding the furry groundhog is none other than the late Carl Snyder from New Tripoli. Snyder, a popular Dutchman, together with Sterling “Tiny” Zimmerman, they spoke at many of the Dialect lodges in our area. Carl was also the President of the Lynn-Heidelburg Township Historical Society, responsible for relocating the early 1755 Zeisloff log cabin for his membership group.
A rare photograph of the “Grundsau” (Groundhog) Lodge Number “Ains” (One) taken along the Lehigh River. The Groundhog brother on the left in the front holding the furry groundhog is none other than the late Carl Snyder from New Tripoli. Snyder, a popular Dutchman, together with Sterling “Tiny” Zimmerman, they spoke at many of the Dialect lodges in our area. Carl was also the President of the Lynn-Heidelburg Township Historical Society, responsible for relocating the early 1755 Zeisloff log cabin for his membership group. Submitted photo — Courtesy of American Folklife Collection

The amusing groundhog folk customs and traditions of our PA Dutch people predicting the advancing weather were carefully passed on to new generations by our early Rhineland immigrants. For some of these pioneers, survival in the New World was a matter of folk wisdom. In spite of today’s modern scientific weather reporting, the forecasting weather folkways continue to parallel some almanacs and are followed by an eager generation with whom our inborn immigrant work-ethic belief that if the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2nd, we will have six more weeks of winter, following a folk calendar year interwoven with religion.

Years ago few natives living in the North American climatic temperate zone could expect to easily survive unless they anticipated planting gardens and crops in the early springtime or preparing canned goods and heating fuel for our harsh winters. Groundhog Day, among old-time Pennsylvania Dutch people, was not only a time to feast on a large winter’s meal and tell amusing tall tales in the PA Dutch German Dialect at a Grundsow Lodge, but more importantly a time for self-sufficient PA Dutch farmers to order seeds and supplies from mail-order catalogues for the coming spring season, hopefully predicted by a hibernating groundhog.

Although February 2nd is no longer a reminder for remote farmers and housewives to order their mail-order seeds for spring, it is a reminder for farmers and gardeners to keep their equipment in tip top condition for the spring season as soon as spring breaks. Although there were a number of Irish immigrants who also immigrated to Pennsylvania with Rhinelanders, Saint Patrick’s Day March 17th to a PA Dutchman became the day upon which a prudent farmer had planted his onion sets and peas in his garden in order to get an early start to enhance his diet, besides relying on wild dandelion, (one of the first edible vegetations in early spring), eaten on “Maundy” (Green) Thursday, the day before Good Friday, when the Easter season is celebrated in springtime.

But a favorite work-ethic holiday has always been Fastnacht day (Shrove Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday when the frugal PA Dutch housewife uses up her left over lard before Lenten season and makes Fastnachts, a doughnut type fried cake which an obedient Christian would not eat normally during the Lenten season previous to Easter Sunday. According to early pioneer Dutchmen who never wasted anything, the left over lard in which the Fastnachts were fried was to be used by a prudent farmer to grease his spring tools and machinery in preparation for using these tools in spring planting.

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Realizing the hard work upon which each PA Dutch farmer’s responsibility was relied upon in early spring, it is understandable why the initial Groundhog meals eaten by several Grundsow lodges previous to spring plantings have become eating feasts with the good humor of fellow members telling tall tales. The work-ethic of these PA Dutch people, some of the best farmers in the nation, should not be denied their celebrations or their reliance on yesteryears folkways.