In Honor of
FALLING MIDWAY BETWEEN THE WINTER SOLSTICE AND THE SPRING EQUINOX, February 2nd is a significant day in several ancient and modern traditions. The Celts, for instance, celebrated it as a pagan festival marking the beginning of spring. As Christianity spread through Europe, it evolved into Candlemas, a feast commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the holy temple in Jerusalem. In certain parts of Europe, Christians believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold and snow. Germans developed their own take on the legend, pronouncing the day sunny only if badgers and other animals glimpsed their own shadows. When German immigrants settled Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought the custom with them, choosing the native groundhog as the annual forecaster.
The first official Groundhog Day celebration took place on February 2, 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It was the brainchild of local newspaper editor Clymer Freas, who sold a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters—known collectively as the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club—on the idea. The men trekked to a site called Gobbler’s Knob, where the inaugural groundhog became the bearer of bad news when he saw his shadow.
Nowadays, the yearly festivities in Punxsutawney are presided over by a band of local dignitaries known as the Inner Circle. Its members wear top hats and conduct the official proceedings in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. (They supposedly speak to the groundhog in “Groundhogese.”) Every February 2, tens of thousands of spectators attend Groundhog Day events in Punxsutawney, a borough that is home to some 6,000 people. It was immortalized in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, which was actually shot in Woodstock, Illinois.
While sunny winter days are indeed associated with colder, drier air, we probably shouldn’t trade in our meteorologists for groundhogs just yet. Recent studies by the National Climatic Data Center and the Canadian weather service have yielded success rates of 40 percent or less for the animals.
According to groundhog.org:
1. Punxsutawney Phil is the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just imposters.
2. There has been only one Punxsutawney Phil. He gets his longevity from drinking "groundhog punch" (a secret recipe). One sip, which is administered every summer at the Groundhog Picnic, gives him seven more years of life.
3. On February 2nd, Phil comes out of his burrow on Gobbler's Knob, in front of thousands of faithful followers from all over the world, to predict the weather for the rest of the winter. According to legend, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring.
4. Punxsutawney Phil's forecasts are not made in advance by the Inner Circle. After Phil emerges from his burrow on February 2nd, he speaks to the Groundhog Club President in Groundhogese. His proclamation is then translated for the world.
5. Supposedly, Punxsutawney Phil was named after King Phillip. Prior to being called Phil, he was called Br'er Groundhog.
6. Phil and the club also travel throughout the world visiting people who wish to meet Phil and to find out more about his amazing popularity and regal stature.
7. For the record, Phil sees his shadow about nine out of ten times.
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