Saturday, January 31, 2015

Groundhog Day…And I Don't Mean The Movie


NEWS FLASH—7:25AM E.S.T. MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2, PUNXSUTAWNEY, PENNSYLVANIA:  PHIL WILL EMERGE FROM HIS BURROW TO PREDICT WHEN WINTER WILL END.  NO SHADOW…NO MORE WINTER.  SEES HIS SHADOW…SIX MORE WEEKS OF WINTER!  6 weeks...which, by strange coincidence, takes us almost to the Vernal Equinox signaling the official end of winter and the first day of Spring.

Every year on February 2 a furry rodent of the groundhog variety named Punxsutawney Phil sticks his head out of his burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to do his annual weather forecast.  In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated as Groundhog Day.  If Phil sees his shadow, it will frighten him and he'll return to his burrow.  If he doesn't see his shadow, he'll emerge and winter will soon be over.

At least, that's what the tradition claims.

The earliest American written reference to a groundhog day was 1841 in Pennsylvania's Berks County (Pennsylvania Dutch) referring to it as the German celebration called Candlemas day where a groundhog seeing its shadow was a weather indication.  Superstition says that fair weather was seen as a prediction of a stormy and cold second half to winter, as noted in this Old English saying:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

Since the first official celebration of Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania in 1886, crowds as large as 40,000 people have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the annual celebration.  And in recent years it's been covered live on television.  Quite an accolade for the little ol' groundhog.  Since 1887, the groundhog has seen his shadow 101 times (hmm…I wonder how many of those recent times were due to the television lights) predicting a longer winter and has not seen it 17 times to predict an early spring.  There is no record of his prediction for 9 years in the late 1800s.

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a member of the squirrel family.  The current Punxsutawney Phil weighs fifteen pounds and lives in a climate controlled home in the Punxsutawney library.  On Gobbler's Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on a stage before being pulled out at 7:25AM to make his annual prediction.

Quite removed from the concept of the groundhog waking from hibernation and emerging from his burrow in the wild.  :)

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